Air Pressure and Life

Most introductory chapters in anatomy begin by describing the organization of the body and the requirements of life. Students usually already understand why food, water, and oxygen are requirements, but air pressure is a concept that they usually don’t understand.

This article takes an excerpt from “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs” by Caitlin Doughty which describes what happens to an astronaut in space if their pressurized suit fails. Three paragraphs discuss in graphic detail how gas will expand causing the body to bloat and gas bubbles in the blood will cause pain. Air in the lungs will expand causing rupturing and internal bleeding, ultimately causing death by asphyxiation.

I have added 4 discussion questions to the end, so that students can read the article together or as a class and come up with answers. The questions do not necessarily have exact right answers and is best for discussion and not formative assessment. Overall, the goal is for students to connect the idea of air pressure with requirements for life. If students have not had chemistry, they may need refreshers on why air pressure affects the boiling temperature of water.

This article is used with Google Slide presentation which is aligned to Openstax Anatomy. Other resources, such as quizlets and labeling exercises for this unit can be found at Chapter 1: Introduction to Anatomy The video linked below can also explain some of the issues with surviving in space, though it is kind of gruesome even in cartoon form.

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