Atmospheric Crystallography

[Image: From the original research paper (PDF), via Popular Science].

Popular Science reported last week that a “weird crystal”—a “salt made from cobalt”—can “absorb all the oxygen in a room,” and, more crucially, release all that oxygen later, at which point it can safely be breathed.

I will confess that I initially thought this sounded more like some terrifying new air-weapon: after all, if “just a spoonful of the stuff can suck up all the oxygen in a room,” then you’re looking at a very potent, seemingly instantaneous method for causing mass suffocation. Drop a few spoonfuls of these crystals into a building’s ventilation system, and… Well, you get the idea.

But the actual, far more productive implications are incredible (assuming further tests with the material pan out). The University of Southern Denmark-based researchers suggest, for example, that this could revolutionize SCUBA diving, “as the material can absorb oxygen from the water around the diver and supply the diver with it,” meaning that “scuba divers could potentially leave their tanks at home,” gearing up with just a few grains of salt. “

Extrapolate from this for a moment, however, and imagine all of the other confined spatial environments in which oxygen-emitting cobalt salts could upend conventional thinking. Long-term submarine missions; underwater scientific bases or other submerged structures of any kind; mines, collapsed buildings, and other underground spaces; or, perhaps most interestingly, even offworld space missions could all be equipped with radically minimalized oxygen storage systems, reducing costs.

You can thus imagine some strange new everyday reality several decades from now in which deep-sea divers or long-haul astronauts turn to a chewing gum-sized pack of salt crystals which they pop open as needed for emergency oxygen.

Think of this portable atmospheric crystal as the gateway to new spatial possibilities, letting us bring our atmospheres with us in just a few handfuls of salt.

5 thoughts on “Atmospheric Crystallography”

  1. Mmm, the vision of sucking all the O2 out of the water around a scuba diver makes it just as horrible an anti-sea life weapon as you envisioned it being an anti-human one.

  2. So Lego had it (almost) right all along! I seem to remember the old Aquazone sets I had as a kid coming with oxygen crystals which were harvested to supply air to the underwater base

  3. from a more terrestrial point of view, maybe some sort of fire extinguishing technologies.eliminating all the oxygen at a specific location could prove to be very useful.

  4. When I was a child, I watched the Auquaman cartoon, then when my mom took me to the store, I always searched the candy aisle in vain for the oxygen gum that Auquaman used. The search has, apparently, not been in vain after all!

  5. sucking all the oxygen out of a room sized area surrounding a diver would probably kill all marine life in that vicinity.

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