Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do The Fish

Humans have the ability to go anywhere they want. Humans can dig in the ground, fly in the air, climb the tallest of mountains, and swim in the oceans. However, there is only so far humans can go while in the ocean. For my first blog post I thought I would focus on a problem marine biologists have studying creatures at great depths. Decompression sickness aka the bends is a major problem for scuba divers going below a certain depth. Due to the human lungs inability to handle the compression/ decompression most scuba divers never go below 70meters. In fact, more people have walked on the moon than have dived below 240meters. The deepest dive ever completed by a human is 701m set by Nuno Gomes and took 14mins to get down there, but 12 hrs to get back up.
As unlikely as it sounds the key to diving deeper than ever before may lie in a 1989 Science Fiction film in James Cameron’s “The Abyss”. The problem of diving deep in the gas in our lungs, therefore, eliminate the gas. Well an inventor in the United States says he has the solution. Arnold Lande, a retired American heart and lung surgeon, has patented a scuba suit that would allow a human to breathe “liquid air”, a special solution that has been highly enriched with oxygen molecules. Lande envisages a scuba suit that would allow divers to inhale highly-oxygenated perfluorocarbons (PFCs) – a type of liquid that can dissolve enormous quantities of gas. The liquid would be contained in an enclosed helmet that would replace all the air in the lungs, nose and ear cavities. The CO2 that would normally exit our body when we breathe out would be taken from our blood by attaching a mechanical gill to the femoral vein in the leg.
The ability to breathe liquid is already in use, but not in a way you might expect. Premature babies have trouble adjusting because their lungs are under developed and cannot handle breathing air. Instead they are used to the liquid breathing inside the womb. So using PFCs these premature babies can breathe easier and have the ability to develop their lungs further until they can breathe air. “A lot of the children I see have less than a 5% survival rate,” he explains. “But when we get them on to liquid breathing we see close to 60% going on to lead fully healthy lives.” Says Professor Thomas Shaffer.
“The first trick you would have to learn is overcoming the gag reflex,” explains Lande, a 79-year-old inventor from St Louis, Missouri. “But once that oxygenated liquid is inside your lungs it would feel just like breathing air.” When a person drowns its not the water that kills them, instead it’s the lack of oxygen. While drowning there is an instinct that overrides holding your breath, and instead tries to get one last breath. When this happens the PFCs provide the oxygen and save the person. The only side effect is hurt ribs from the pressure of breathing the liquid in and out.
With this new technique humans may be able to finally conquer the oceans at all of its depths. What new things that could be discovered is potentially limitless, but first, we need a way to find it. For more info on the story click the diver picture at the top!


  1. I find this very interesting if it can actually be done and carried out where people will be able to breathe a very deep depths. My question is, even though we are getting the liquid air and the oxygen we need, also being able to excrete through the gills, what about our lungs being air space in our body? Would our lungs collapse with this new liquid air? Or would they stay open? If they do stay open, we can only go down to certain depths due to the open air space in our lungs and our lungs would eventually collapse. Just a few thought questions, but overall the article and writing seems like a new break through and I found it very interesting.

  2. "The CO2 that would normally exit our body when we breathe out would be taken from our blood by attaching a mechanical gill to the femoral vein in the leg."

    This quote really stood out to me because it shows the drastic measures that must be taken to use this diving technique. Not only do you have to get over the psychological fear of drowning by "breathing" water, you have to become part fish!

    Going off what Angie said, animals that live at great depths in the ocean can do so because they have no air pockets in their body. Humans, however, do have these air pockets. How would this affect the depth at which we could dive because of the pressure affects?

  3. Check out this good recent story on James Cameron's deep dives by submersible:

  4. As a sort of Co-Reply to Mary and Angie, Im not sure of the air space effect of depths of diving. The big reason for the bends is the amount of gas in the lungs, so drastically reducing that amount should allow the speed one goes up and down. I assume this technique will allow for deeper diving, but improvements could still be made.