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Fact vs fiction in Ant-Man and The Wasp

By Jasmine, 27 September 2018 News

Image of a small person wearing helmet. The Wasp character from the movie Ant-Man and The Wasp.

Would it be possible to shrink as small as The Wasp?
Image: ©Marvel Studios 2018

It’s exciting to get swept up in the fictional world of a good movie, but do you ever wonder if the story line is really possible? Sit back and pass the popcorn as we take a closer look at the science and technology behind Ant-Man and The Wasp.

Want to watch the movie first? It’s available on Digital 31 October and Blu-Ray 14 November. But don’t worry we haven’t included any major spoilers!

The big and small of it

The Wasp and Ant-Man use amazing technology that allow them to shrink to the size of their namesake insects. And it’s not just the two of them that change size! Even in the trailer you see the team has a building that they shrink down and wheel around as a tiny suitcase.

Let’s take a closer look at how these shrunken objects behave. You’ll want to keep an eye out in the film for the most hotly debated issue, all about mass – the amount of matter or substance that makes up an object.

When something shrinks in the movie, does it retain its mass? That would make something very tiny, very heavy (dense). If that’s the case, a person wouldn’t be able to wheel a suitcase-sized building. But if it doesn’t, it would be hard for an insect-sized person to have a big impact.

Image of Ant-Man riding the flying ant and The Wasp flying beside.

Human body systems would struggle if shrunk 
Image: ©Marvel Studios 2018

In the original Ant-Man movie, the character who becomes The Wasp, Hope van Dyne, says “When you’re small, energy’s compressed. So, you have the force of a 200-pound man behind a fist a hundredth of an inch wide. You’re like a bullet.”

Translating that from the imperial system to the metric system, it means the force of a 91-kilogram man, behind a fist 0.25 millimetres wide. Admittedly it doesn’t have the same ring to it. But if we scale Ant-Man’s mass along with his size, he ends up weighing less than a gram. That bullet-like punch ends up more like a kick from a grasshopper.

Then there’s the trouble of being a person, but also the size of an insect. Our body systems work because of the size we are, and differ a lot from those of insects. A tiny human would have trouble breathing and keeping cool. Not to mention having extremely high-pitched voices!

The reality of the Quantum Realm

Image of a tardigrade and a miniature tardigrade wearing a helmet.

In real life, tardigrades are super tough, but are too big for a Quantum Realm
Image: ©Marvel Studios 2018

Quantum physics is a branch of physics that mostly applies at a tiny scale, affecting atoms or the parts they’re made of. The Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and The Wasp is based on this idea, and the characters need to shrink even smaller than usual enter this place.

Scientists do use the term quantum realm, but it’s about scale (size) not a place. They look at the quantum realm to find out about actions and reactions on the nanoscale. That is, where things are measured in nanometres, or millionths of a millimetre.

What about those strange floating beasts in the Quantum Realm, known as tardigrades? Yes, they exist in the real world and survive extreme conditions including temperatures near the coldest possible temperature, powerful radiation and the vacuum of space. Tardigrades range from 0.1 millimetres to 1.5 millimetres in size so they’re too big for a quantum realm, but they are pretty tough in most existing conditions!

So Ant-Man and The Wasp has a definite basis in science, but it’s still a long way from reality! Our advice? Sit back, suspend your disbelief and enjoy the story.

If you love sorting fact from fiction, subscribe to Double Helix magazine today to receive our next issue. There’s more on superhero science as we explore the reality of sci-fi!

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