Marvel Comics characters Ant-Man and the Wasp have the ability to shrink down to insect size. But to be still able to breathe at that size, they would have to overcome an atmospheric density that is similar to the top of Mount Everest. Their tiny bodies would also require higher metabolisms. How do they manage it?
Virginia Tech graduate student Max Mikel-Stites addresses that question in a paper titled “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Microscale Respiration and Microfluidic Technology”. To research Ant-Man’s microscale respiration, Mikel-Stites joined forces with Anne Staples, associate professor of biomedical engineering, whose laboratory studied how fluids flow in nature. Insects naturally move fluids and gases efficiently at tiny scales. If engineers can learn how insects breathe, they can use the knowledge to invent new microfluidic technologies. Mikel-Stites studied scenes in the film Ant-Man (2015) and trailers from the sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). He made a list of problems and another one of solutions.
The researchers deduce that for their survival, the Marvel universe had to give Ant-Man and the Wasp superhero technologies. Ant-Man and the Wasp solve the altitude problem with their superhero suits. In their publication, Mikel-Stites and Staples write that the masks in Ant-Man and the Wasp’s suits contain “a combination of an air pump, a compressor, and a molecular filter including Pym particle technology”, which allows them to breathe while they are insect-sized.
The manuscript was accepted for publication before the release of the 2018 sequel. Mikel-Stites was concerned that the film might include new technologies, or change Ant-Man’s canon from the 2015 film, in which case the findings would have been debunked. “But the 2018 movie actually supported everything we had said, which was really nice,” the Virginia Tech website quotes Mikel-Stites as saying.
The paper is published in the Journal of Superhero Science (https://journals.library.tudelft.nl/index.php/superhero/article/view/2474)
Source: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University