Breathe underwater! Take your two wave hold downs with a few grains
"New Product Will Help Humans Breathe Underwater!"
Every few months one of these headlines rolls around the internet sending big wave hearts - and those who wish they had the heart - a'flutter. The last example was in March this year when the Triton Oxygen Mask was unveiled. Designed by South Korean Jeabyun Yeon, the Triton was a breathing apparatus that supposedly extracted oxygen from seawater. Aspiring big wave surfers could finish with their Breath Enhancement Training and underwater rock running by simply lobbing one of these in their gob (see image below).
Unfortunately it happened to be another internet hoax, although in this case the deception was inadvertent. Jeabyun Yeon was a designer providing a “visualization for a conceptual diving respirator without a tank." The Triton was simply a concept, and as such it needn't adhere to such annoying things as physical reality.
The fact that breathing pure oxygen ain't too good for humans, and that doing so under pressure is often fatal, was just one of the Triton's sticking points. That surfers fell for it says we're either a wee bit gullible, or the desire to breathe underwater is compelling. Maybe it was a bit of both.
In a recent issue of Chemical Science a study was published under the esoteric name 'Oxygen chemisorption/desorption in a reversible single-crystal-to-single-crystal transformation'. The research was conducted by scientists at the University of Southern Denmark after they had successfully created a substance that's able to absorb and store oxygen in such high concentrations that "just one bucketful is enough to remove all of the oxygen in a room".
The substance - its exact chemical make-up hasn't been made public - is also able to release the stored oxygen in a controlled manner when it is needed, so just a few grains could replace the need for divers to carry scuba tanks.
You can see where this is going...
Science-type publications picked up on the research reproducing it for the layman in articles with titles such as "Want to be Aquaman?" and "Oxygen absorbing material may allow us to breathe underwater".
Putting on my skeptics hat I Googled the scientists involved - they're all legit - and I also searched for their research - it exists, as does the journal it was published in.
In terms of commerical applications, the substance can theoretically help the infirm, such as lung patients who currently carry heavy oxygen tanks, and increase efficency in the internal combustion engine. And when fossil fuels inevitably run out the substance may help create energy as Science Daily loftily opined, "Perhaps one day in the future even sunlight-driven “reversible” fuel cells will be made. With these we will have to separate oxygen from hydrogen in order to recombine them in order to get energy."
All that is left is to find out whether the scientists' work can be applied to such noble activities as breathing underwater. Professor Christine McKenzie, who led the research, thinks so. "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”.
No word from the good professor about the effects of breathing pure oxygen.
Thanks to Shane Arrold for the heads up on this story. I'll see you out at Jaws this Hawaiian season.