Do you remember the last time you were held under for long enough to feel a twinge of panic? Sometime in the near future, you might not have to worry about that. Scientists at the University of Southern Denmark have created a material that can store oxygen in high concentrations and release it when needed.
A bucket full (10 litres, or around 22 pounds) of the material is enough to suck up all the oxygen in an average sized room. Think about how long you could breathe in a sealed room. The material, dubbed the “Aquaman Crystal,” is able to absorb and release oxygen many times over without losing the ability. “It is like dipping a sponge in water, squeezing the water out of it and repeating the process over and over again,” Christine McKenzie, a professor at the University explains.
Once the material has absorbed the oxygen, it can be released by simply heating the material or subjecting it to low pressure. “We see a release of oxygen when we heat up the material, and we have also seen it when we apply vacuum,” McKenzie continued. “We are now wondering if light can also be used as a trigger for the material to release oxygen.”
While the still in early developmental stages, a key ingredient in the material is cobalt, which is bound in an organic molecule that has been specially designed in the lab. According to McKenzie, the cobalt enables the organic material to absorb the oxygen from its surroundings. This same mechanism is used by every creature on earth, although most don’t use cobalt. Humans use iron, while things like spiders and crabs use copper. Tiny amounts of certain metals are necessary for us to be able to effectively absorb oxygen from the environment, so scientists are not entirely surprised to see this reaction with cobalt.
While the benefits to surfing are obvious, it could also prove to be invaluable in many other areas – lung patients may not have to carry oxygen tanks with them, and divers would be able to use it, as it is able to filter oxygen from water as well as air. “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,” says McKenzie. “The diver will not need to bring more than these few grains.”
The amount of time it takes for the Aquaman Crystal to absorb the oxygen depends on a number of things: the atmospheric oxygen content, temperature, and pressure all come into play. It can take mere seconds in optimal conditions, and up to a few days in less-than-ideal ones. But with that comes another benefit. Those differences make it possible to make devices that can absorb and release oxygen under strict circumstances. One example given is a mask containing numerous layers in the proper sequence could supply air without pumps.