Marvel heroes draw inspiration from insects to breathe

Tuesday, 20 November 2018, 04:26 Hrs
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Marvel comics superheroes Ant-Man and Wasp experience an increase in metabolic rate and oxygen as they shrink from human to insect size, say researchers while explaining the logic behind the Hollywood characters' transformation in the movie "Ant-Man and the Wasp".

Inspired by the movie these researches have now developed insect-inspired micro-fluidics to help in breathing.

Ant-Man and Wasp -- eponymous stars of the 2018 film -- possess the ability to temporarily shrink down to the size of insects, while retaining the mass and strength of their normal human bodies. 

Embedding their helmets with insect-inspired microscale air pumps, compressors and molecule filters could help them breathe at the microscale, said researchers as they tried to explain the mechanics aiding the movie characters.

The study led by engineering mechanics graduate student Max Mikel-Stites from Virginia Tech, could reduce the actuation machinery needed for micro-fluidic devices used in different scientific fields, and make them more portable and cost-efficient.

"Applying that perspective to "Ant-Man and the Wasp" seemed like a straightforward thing to do," Mikel-Stites said.

The team determined that the atmospheric density -- basically, the number of molecules (of oxygen) in a given volume of air -- experienced by the bug-sized heroes is reduced to a level nearly identical to that of Mt. Everest's so-called "death zone" where there is not enough oxygen for a human to breathe. 

"While the actual atmospheric density is the same for an insect and a human, the subjective atmospheric density experienced by a human who shrinks to insect size changes," Mikel-Stites explained. 

"For example, a normal-sized person taking a deep breath can expect to inhale some number of oxygen molecules. However, when that person is shrunk down to the size of an ant, despite still needing the same number of oxygen molecules, far fewer are available in a single breath of air," he said.

The "death zone" begins for a normal-sized human about 8,000 meters above sea level. The shrunken superheroes, the researchers calculated, would feel like they were at an altitude of 7,998 meters, and that would make for a serious -- if not deadly -- case of altitude sickness.

In addition, the researchers found that the metabolic rates per unit mass of the superheroes at bug size would increase by approximately two orders of magnitude -- as would their oxygen demands.

The findings were presented at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics 71st Annual Meeting in Atlanta. 

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