Ralph Merkle on Cryonics & Hypersleep

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September 21st, 2012 Posted by AAG Filed in: Space

Slow the heart rate, cool the body, and you’ve got hypersleep. Drain the blood, freeze the body, and you’ve got cryonics. While hypersleep is a staple technology in science fiction, cryonics is being refined in the real world, and Dr. Ralph Merkle is here to discuss it. Cryonics is an old technology: Walt Disney’s been a corpsicle since the 60’s, but it takes more than liquid nitrogen to make cryonics work. The missing piece of cryonics is reviving the patient, but Merkle believes that nanotechnology and nanomedicine provide a solution.

Dr. Ralph Merkle is a director at the Alcor Foundation, and while he’s keen on the idea of cryonics for space-travel, his concern is far more practical. Alcor currently has 75 frozen cryonics patients stored in vats of liquid nitrogen in Scottsdale, Arizona – and lots more patients on the way. If you want a lease on life, you can name Alcor the beneficiary of your life-insurance policy, which puts cryonic suspension within reach of the average person, and that’s good for Alcor’s enrollment.

Nobody wants to die, but cryonics promises to deliver a lot more than just that. Combined with nanomedicine, it offers a one-way ticket to the future that starts whenever you’re finished with the present. For some, it’s a golden ticket to eternal life that solves incurable illness and promises eternal youth. For the space industry, cryonics might just enable long-haul interstellar spaceflight in our lifetimes.

“Alcor currently uses liquid nitrogen to keep patients at a temperature of 77 degrees Kelvin, which is cold enough that chemical reactions are effectively halted. Basically, once the patient reaches that temperature and is placed in permanent storage in our Scottsdale facility, they are in a form of stasis, and can remain that way unchanged for centuries. Obviously the important part is minimizing damage to the human organism before and during the cooling process. In the past, freezing an organism created ice-crystals that damaged cellular structure.

It might surprise most people to learn that this really isn’t an issue in today’s cryonic processes, thanks to the introduction of cryo-protectants and ice-blocking agents that suppress ice-formation entirely, meaning that you can now cool the tissue and not form ice, which is known as vitrification. It’s making people take cryonics a lot more seriously…” – Dr. Ralph Merkle

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