Scientists at the University of South Denmark have developed a synthetic crystal that absorbs and stores oxygen
It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel; crystals that absorb oxygen and allow you to breathe under water.
But scientists in Denmark have developed a crystalline substance so powerful that a bucketful can bind and absorb all the oxygen in a room.
The stored oxygen – which can be absorbed from air or water – can then be released when and where its needed by putting it under a small amount of heat.
It may a little way off being at a stage where divers could leave their oxygen tanks onshore and take the crystals instead, but it’s not out of the question, says Professor Christine McKenzie at the University of Southern Denmark, who says that the implications of the discovery are wide-reaching.
“This could be valuable for lung patients who today must carry heavy oxygen tanks with them,” she told Science Daily.
“But also divers may one day be able to leave the oxygen 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.”
The substance has been dubbed the ‘Aquaman crystal’, after the DC comic book character who can breathe underwater.
It has a sponge-like consistency and its key component is cobalt, which allows it to absorb oxygen.
“Cobalt gives the new material precisely the molecular and electronic structure that enables it to absorb oxygen from its surroundings,” explains Professor McKenzie.
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.”
When the substance is full of oxygen, it’s comparable to an oxygen tank, but far smaller and lighter. The substance has been designed and synthesized at University of Southern Denmark. Some of the gas uptake measurements have been made with special equipment by scientists at the University of Sydney, Australia.