What is the difference between cryonics and cryogenics?

Deep freezing dead bodies so that they can be revived in the future when the cure has been found for the cause of death. It is the stuff of many sci-fi movies and books. It is not just fiction, either. When 23-year-old Kim Suozzi learned that she was dying from brain cancer, she opted to have her dead body frozen, hoping to come back to life someday.

Cryogenics? Close, but no cigar. They are related, but the correct term is cryonics.

What is the difference between cryogenics and cryonics?

Cryogenics is the scientific study or the production of extremely low temperatures (below −150 °C, −238 °F or 123 K) and how materials (such as metals, food, liquids) behave at those temperatures. Cryonics, meanwhile, is the application of cryogenics to preserve human bodies soon after death, in an anticipation of future revival and healing of the death-causing disease or injury as well as injuries suffered (if any) during the cryonic process.

vat or giant tank used at Alcor Life Extension Foundation

Photo courtesy of Alcor Life Extension Foundation

To prevent the water inside the body from freezing and damaging the cells of the deceased individual, a process called vitrification is done. Here, water is removed from the cells and replaced with a glycerol-based chemical mixture called a cryoprotectant. This mixture protects the organs and tissues from forming ice crystals even at very low temperatures. The body is then placed upside down into a container that is then placed into a large metal tank filled with liquid nitrogen. The body is stored head down to ensure that the brain remains frozen in case a leak in the tank occurs.

Cryonics is not cheap. In Alcor Life Extension Foundation, for example, the minimum cryopreservation cost is $200,000 for a whole body cryopreservation and $80,000 for neurosuspension. In neurosuspension, only the brain is preserved, with the hope that future technology will enable a way to regenerate the rest of the body.


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