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  • Annika Santhanam

The Science Behind Captain America's Suspended Animation

In this article, I’ll be exploring the topic of suspended animation and how it relates to the preservation of Captain America. So, to begin with, as I’ve done with my previous article, The Science Behind Lightsabers, let me give you a quick recap of the movie and how exactly Captain America ended up being preserved in ice for 70 years.


Captain America: The First Avenger was the Marvel movie that kick started the Avengers and their future adventures. Near the end of the movie, we see Captain America and the main villain, Red Skull, having a fight aboard a jet plane. Red Skull eventually gets thrown into a portal created by the Tesseract. The Tesseract in the movie is a dangerous, alien cube that Red Skull had in his possession. Red Skull disappears, and the Tesseract falls out of the plane. Captain America tries to land the plane, but it is too damaged. Since the plane is also carrying bombs, he decides to put the plane in the water, and ends up crashing the plane with him inside it into the Arctic. Captain America ends up being frozen in the ice until he is found, along with the Tesseract, and thawed out. When he is brought back to life, he finds himself 70 years in the future. He hasn’t undergone any physical change, and is the same age as he was when he crashed into the Arctic.

The Big Question

Ever since the first Captain America movie, Marvel fans like me have been wondering; how in the world did Cap survive for seventy years in a block of ice? Many theories have surfaced. Some say that he was able to survive and preserve his current age because of the strength-serum that was injected into him to make him Captain America. Obviously, that answer can’t be scientifically proven, as the strength-serum is purely a work of Stan Lee’s [Creator of the Marvel comics] imagination. With the current technological advances, another question has risen; is a process similar to this possible? The answer; yes! We may not be able to preserve a person for 70 years, but we may be able to preserve and save people in a near-death state.

The Science Behind It All

There have been some significant incidences and scientific discoveries that have contributed to this possibility. In Popular Science, an article called ‘The Reanimators’ talks about an incident in which a woman named Kelly Dwyer set out hiking on a beaver pond trail. When she didn’t return, she was found by her husband submerged in icy water, her body temperature in the low 60s. Her heart stopped, and she was considered clinically dead by the time she reached the hospital. She was taken to a nearby Catholic Medical Center where the doctors there used a cardiac bypass machine to heat up and re-oxygenate her blood. After five hours of using this machine, Kelly’s core temp rose back up, and her heart began to beat again.

In short, she was brought back to life five hours after being clinically dead. How is this phenomenon possible? Scientists have found that when a person is subjected to extreme cold before dying, the person’s metabolic rate slows down. Because of this, the constant need for oxygen is reduced drastically, allowing the person to stay in a ‘suspended’ state for up to seven hours without damage to their body. This ‘suspended’ state is referred to as suspended animation. Scientists have realized that suspended animation can be used to save lives. In incidents when a person is fatally injured and is bleeding out, doctors have very limited time to save the patient. A lot of damage could be done while trying to save the person. However, by using suspended animation, doctors can slow the person’s metabolic rate, preventing further bleeding, and thereby gaining time to save the patient’s live. The doctors can then perform the proper, safe procedures.

Producing Suspended Animation

Scientists have found two methods to induce suspended animation. The first method is with an invisible hydrogen-sulfide gas. This gas was discovered in a cave in Mexico when a few people were exploring the cave. When the people breathed in the gas, they were immediately knocked out, and they appeared dead. When they were brought out of the cave, they were immediately re-animated. Dr. Mark Roth, a doctor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, has successfully performed an experiment with this gas on mice. When exposed to the gas, they fell into a suspended state. When Roth exposed the mice to regular air, they were immediately re-animated, just like the people in the cave.

The second method is a procedure that scientists hope to test on humans. By replacing the blood in a person’s body with a freezing-cold saline solution, a hypothermic state can be induced on purpose, leading to suspended animation. After performing their medical procedures, the doctors can then resume blood flow in the body and warm it back up, re-animating the person.

The Future of Suspended Animation

There is still a lot of further research to be done on how to test it on humans, how to administer the saline solution, and how to maintain the saline solution in the body. However, with our current discoveries, we can easily come to the conclusion that subduing a person to a situation similar to Captain America’s is possible with today’s technology. Even though we’re far from preserving someone for 70 years, we can still save lives, and bring people back from the dead.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article! Stay tuned for more Science Behind the Movies articles!


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