Diver Underwater
A diver underwater. Reuters

Scientists at the University of Southern Denmark have synthesized a crystal which could allow people to breathe underwater.

Dubbed the Aquaman Crystal – perhaps by fans of the DC superhero – but really called the less catchy "[{(bpbp)Co2II(NO3)}2(NH2bdc)](NO3)2 * 2H2O", just a spoonful of the material can absorb all the oxygen from a room.

The crystal can collect oxygen from the surrounding environment, bind it and store it in high concentration much like an oxygen tank, but without the size and weight. A small amount of heat can then release the oxygen.

"This could be valuable for lung patients who today must carry heavy oxygen tanks with them," said Professor Christine McKenzie in a statement. "Also 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.

"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."

The sponge-like material uses element cobalt, bound in an organic molecule.

"Cobalt gives the new material precisely the molecular and electronic structure that enables it to absorb oxygen from its surroundings," McKenzie said. "Small amounts of metals are essential for the absorption of oxygen, so actually it is not entirely surprising to see this effect in our new material."

Researchers are also investigating whether the release of oxygen can be triggered by light.