Scientists Have Created Crystals That Make Breathing Underwater a Reality

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The news: Aquaman. The Little Mermaid. Spongebob Squarepants. These are just some of our most recognizable heroes who can breathe underwater. And though it seems like the stuff of fiction, breathing underwater may soon be very much a reality.

A group of scientists at the University of Southern Denmark have developed what they're calling a "crystalline materials that can bind and store oxygen in high concentrations." In other words, they've figured out how to pack a room's worth of oxygen into a bucket full of crystals. 

"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," professor Christine McKenzie said in a release. "When the substance is saturated with oxygen, it can be compared to an oxygen tank containing pure oxygen under pressure — the difference is that this material can hold three times as much oxygen."

Unlike other substances that also react with oxygen, the developers of what's being called the "Aquaman Crystal" are likening it to a sponge that can absorb and hold oxygen, rather than simply react to it and lose the elements' life-sustaining properties. 

So now what? Just as the substances' nickname implies, the obvious application is underwater breathing. As McKenzie pointed out, the crystal (known formally as {(bpbp)Co2II(NO3)}2(NH2bdc)](NO3)2 * 2H2O) can almost be compared to an oxygen tank, which could have dramatic implications for underwater divers. That said, there's still the need to consider pressure changes underwater, as well as the fact that, most of the time, humans don't breathe pure oxygen, but a mix of oxygen and other natural gases. 

Nevertheless, the very fact that this technology now exists opens up the floodgates for further research into unique opportunities and could eventually mean diving and breathing underwater is hardly more than a passing concern made easy through these crystals.

But on top of that, besides just allowing eager divers more time underwater, the "Aquaman Crystals" could be a major boon to lung cancer patients who need to carry around small (but heavy and burdensome) oxygen tanks to sustain regular breathing levels. McKenzie said that very little of the crystals are necessary to hold a lot of oxygen, which means that someone with lung cancer could be free to carry around the equivalent of a handful of crystals as a replacement of their heavy oxygen tank. 

It's the kind of application that makes what might seem like cool but otherwise needless scientific advancement very useful for medicine and general human development.

h/t The Independent

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Matt Essert

Matt is the news director at Mic, covering breaking news. He is based in New York and can be reached at matt@mic.com.

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