A new form of crystalline cobalt salt could help humans breathe underwater.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten

Photo Credit: Flickr/Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten

It takes just 10 liters of a newly-developed form of crystalline cobalt salt to remove 21 percent of the oxygen from the air in a room. The process takes just seconds, and O2 can be released back into the air by heating the material or subjecting it to low surrounding oxygen pressures. 

Vice reports that Danish researchers from the University of Southern Denmark created a synthetic oxygen sponge that chemically binds to individual molecules. The crystal structure creates a lattice for storing the oxygen in a very small amount of space. Each of the structures has two nitrate ions that bind to a metallic molecular substructure. When oxygen is introduced, the nitrogen ions quickly split off. 

"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 Christine McKenzie, a nanobioscience professor and principle investigator behind the new research. Furthermore, the material can do over and over again without losing any of its sponge-like abilities.

The material is able to absorb oxygen from water just as well as it does in air, so it could eventually be used to help divers stay underwater for extended periods of time without the use of air tanks. 

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