Imagine if you could get rid of the bulky oxygen cylinder while taking a dive. Now, imagine practically any task to which the storage and timely release of oxygen is absolutely essential. And you have the new crystal developed at the University of Southern Denmark, with help from the University of Sydney, Australia.
A few microscopic grains are enough for one gulp of air, but a bucketful – or 10 litres – can completely suck the oxygen out of a room.
“In the lab, we saw how this material took up oxygen from the air around us,” said Professor Christine McKenzie, who led the study.
When different things are exposed to oxygen, they react differently – from wine to food to living organisms, varying factors (pressure, temperature etc.) and time of exposure can fundamentally alter things. However, what you get with the new discovery is a way of controlling oxygen by not reacting with it.
This was ascertained by using x-ray diffraction, showing the material’s atomic behaviour when it was full of oxygen, then when it was depleted of it.
“An important aspect of this new material is that it does not react irreversibly with oxygen – even though it absorbs oxygen in a so-called selective chemisorptive process. The material is both a sensor, and a container for oxygen – we can use it to bind, store and transport oxygen – like a solid artificial hemoglobin,” said McKenzie.
“It is also interesting that the material can absorb and release oxygen many times 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,” she continues.
To release the stored oxygen, all that is needed is to heat up the material, or pressure it. And those are just the known, natural ways. McKenzie and the team are now looking further than that.
“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,” she says.
What may be surprising to some is how natural the process of storing the oxygen really is. The key component in the new material is the metal cobalt. It possesses a natural quality for absorption and “gives the new material precisely the molecular structure that enables it to absorb oxygen from its surroundings.”
There was also the question of time and speed; different conditions can affect this differently, and so can different versions of the material. This is crucial for the types of applications where controlled release is necessary – like in a gas mask or in diving gear. Layering and arranging the material correctly will prevent its ability to just suck up the stuff from the surrounding air or water.
“When the material 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,”McKenzie went on.
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 their oxygen cylinder at home and instead get oxygen from this material as it ‘filters’ oxygen from its surroundings.
British freediver sets new national record with 112m dive
British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.
Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m (367ft), returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.
Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.
Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.
At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary’s lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.
Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.
He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting Covid last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.
Gary said: ‘Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy.
‘This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure.
‘At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave.
‘There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.’
Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008.
A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.
Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive on Tuesday (August 9) despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.
His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.
Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.
Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: ‘That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.’
Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.
Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.
Owned and run by world record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m (663ft) deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.
The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.
All Photographs courtesy of Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)
Film Review: Thirteen Lives
Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.
On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.
The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.
I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.
Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.
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