Frozen Man

Frozen Man
In imaginings of the future in film and television such as Futurama or Alien, people are easily frozen for hundreds of years or placed into a state of “hypersleep” during flights to distant stars. Although these stories are still fictitious, somewhere on Earth several hundreds of frozen bodies are just waiting to be discovered. How does this freezing process work, and might we be able to one day bring them back to life?

Slow Down Time

There are many reasons we might want to freeze a human being — for example, perhaps someone we know is suffering from an untreatable disease, the cure for which will only be invented a couple of decades into the future. Meanwhile, the patient’s body is being ravaged by illness now. If only we could push pause on their life until the day arrives that doctors will be able to save them!

We can think of other situations that are much more common than incurable diseases, like car crashes, severe injuries, strokes, and heart attacks. In all of these cases, you have to save the victim very quickly, and if we were able to suspend all of the processes in their bodies, it would help to buy us more time.

Scientists succeeded in keeping a liver “alive” for two days — a transplant, however, was not attempted

The storage of donor organs presents a big problem. Often, they must be transported from far away, and sometimes the recipient is not ready for surgery upon an organ’s arrival, so the doctors have to wait a few days to start a transplant. Unfortunately, most organs cannot be kept intact for more than a few hours. Only recently, scientists succeeded in keeping a liver “alive” for two days — a transplant, however, was not attempted.

Though scientists have long known how to store cells and tissues with the help of liquid nitrogen, freezing an entire body is not an easy task. A cell is a soup made up of lots of different molecules, so it freezes unevenly. At temperatures below freezing, water collects into crystals in the intercellular substance, and the cells shrivel. Returning them to their original state is hard to pull off: ice crystals are very sharp — a large one can burst a blood vessel, while a smaller one can destroy cells. Thus, total freezing works well only for very small objects, like individual cells.

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An astronaut floating in space above the earth, surrounded by particles and positrons.

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