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Insect-inspired microfluidics could help Ant Man and the Wasp breathe

Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Hope van Dyne, aka the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), would need 100 times more oxygen than usual at smaller scales.

The ability to rapidly shrink down to bug size (and beyond) gives Ant-Man and the Wasp tremendous advantages. But it also comes with some scale-related drawbacks, most notably, more difficult breathing. Trick out their suits with insect-inspired microscale air pumps, compressors, and molecule filters, combined with the fictional “Pym particle” technology, et voila! Problem solved.

Anne Staples, a bioengineer at Virginia Tech, and her graduate student Max Mikel-Stites first outlined the respiratory difficulties Ant-Man and the Wasp would likely face while insect-sized in a paper published this summer in the fledgling journal Superhero Science and Technology. (Can I just say how delighted I am that this journal exists?) The group researches respiration at the microscale, using insects as models. They described their work at a meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mikel-Stites, a fan of the Marvel cinematic universe, was stoked for Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s release. So one day in the lab last spring, the conversation naturally turned to how difficult it would be for the superheroes to breathe when insect-sized. “Applying that perspective to Ant-Man and the Wasp seemed like a straightforward thing to do,” says Mikel-Stites, who admits to being a bit nitpicky when it comes to science in the movies. And he couldn’t stop thinking about the breathing problems that our superheroes would inevitably face.

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