AP Chemistry: Blood coagulation and partial pressure in The Martian — Fact or Fiction?


Jessica Xing

In the opening act of The Martian, Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney gets stabbed by a piece of space debris, and his suit gets punctured. However, while this incident should’ve left Mark Watney for dead. After spending a few hours unconscious, Watney explains that the gunky residue of his blood clogged the hole in his space suit, which prevented oxygen from escaping.

When seniors Sameera Malepati and Cynthia Shen and juniors Nikash Narula and Joshua Tai saw this scene, they had to research further.

While watching the movie, the team kept note of all ideas that intrigued them — certain aspects in the movie that seemed interesting or too good to be true. According to Shen, the group called this list the “Book of Ideas”.

“We focused around the research the question — then we broke it down into 2 parts: first is the blood coagulation and then there was the pressure and gas in the suit,” Shen said. “So once we broke down the question then we could focus on different aspect of the research.”

Click through the pictures to see more of their presentation.

AP Chem: Suit Puncture

One of the main challenges according to Tai was the lack of prior research. There wasn’t any real research done about astronauts on Mars so all information had to come from topics that had already been discussed in class.

“For partial pressure, we couldn’t really examine how long humans can survive in a vacuum,” Shen said. “So we had to look at dogs or chimpanzees and compare those to the numbers we know for human beings.”

Another challenge was not being able to find all the information in one place, so according to Malepati they had to split up the work and then connect it back together in a cohesive manner.

In the end this was what they gathered: Watney shouldn’t have been able to survive.

“Pretty much we determined that it would take 25-30 seconds for a blood clot to start forming.” Tai said, “However it only takes 5-10 secs for oxygen escape through the hole, so we determined that it isn’t enough time for him to survive and take care of himself.”