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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Breathing Underwater

Breathing Underwater

For the various poets who have envied animals for their ability to swim, fly or possess grace, there is some hope. Scientists are currently working on allowing us to breathe underwater. The technologies being created are not coming because of insights gained through studying dolphins and other majestic creatures of the sea, but through the oft-ignored beetle. Researchers are hoping to create artificial human gills by trapping air underwater much the same way beetles do.

For those of you sitting in class wondering what the surface of a beetle looks like, question no longer. It looks like a series of tubes, though very tiny, that jut out from the outermost layer and that hold water at the very tip. Most insects drown when immersed in water, but the diving beetle is a rare breed that has a layer of hair on its abdomen such that air is trapped and they cannot drown. This layer of air doesn’t collapse, because of the support of the structures. These air layers behave like gills in that they allow the water to flow into the tubes, and the carbon dioxide tow diffuse. Even the nests and eggshells develop these gills, demonstrating the simple nature of these structures, and thereby the possibility of mimicking them. Glen McHale, a physicist at Nottingham Trent University in England was trying to create water repellant surfaces but his research into synthetic material surprisingly lead to research into bugs. They created a foam-like surface with cylinders that take in oxygen when immersed in water.

Their latest endeavor has been to apply the technology to robots, so that they can take in oxygen in the fuel cells, and not have to come back or carry it. As long as there is oxygen in the water, the machine works indefinitely because it operated through diffusion, thereby not requiring an energy supply. Currently they assume that the surface area for a human to “breathe” underwater will be around 900 square feet, though advancement in nanotechnology should compact that. “The actual surface area required would depend on the gases in the water, water movement and the level of oxygen required,” states McHale. Much of oceanography research has been stagnated in recent years because of the inability to carry enough oxygen to allow for an expedition to depth of the oceans. Further applications, can allow for many other fun possibilities such as an actual Atlantis or maybe this is the first in a series of preparations for global warming.