Underwater Breathing Breakthrough
Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have synthesized a crystalline material which can store oxygen in high concentrations and could be used by divers to breathe underwater.
Professor Christine McKenzie and Jonas Sundberg have synthesized a material that absorbs oxygen in large quantities and stores it.
'We see release of oxygen when we heat up the material, and we have also seen it when we apply vacuum. We are now wondering if light can also be used as a trigger for the material to release oxygen – this has prospects in the growing field of artificial photosynthesis", says Christine McKenzie.
The key component of the new material is the cobalt, which is bound in a specially designed organic molecule. The material is so effective at binding oxygen, that only a spoonful of it is enough to suck up all the oxygen in a room. The researchers' work indicates that the substance can absorb and bind oxygen in a concentration 160 times larger than the concentration in the air around us.
'Cobalt gives the new material precisely the molecular and electronic structure that enables it to absorb oxygen from its surroundings. This mechanism is well known from all breathing creatures on earth: Humans and many other species use iron, while other animals, like crabs and spiders, use copper. Small amounts of metals are essential for the absorption of oxygen, so actually it is not entirely surprising to see this effect in our new material', explains Christine McKenzie.
'This could be valuable for lung patients who today must carry heavy oxygen tanks with them. But also divers may one day be able to leave the tanks at home and instead get oxygen from this material as it "filters" and concentrates oxygen from surrounding air or water. A few grains contain enough oxygen for one breath, and as the material can absorb oxygen from the water around the diver and supply the diver with it, the diver will not need to bring more than these few grains'.