Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to Breathe Water...and Not Die?

Newly designed scuba suit allows diving to great depths, all by breathing in ...water?

Posted by Alexandru Nicolae

So a good friend of mine showed me this wonderful link to a news article discussing a new type of scuba suit. This one is quite different and allows the wearer to avoid decompression sickness, more commonly called the bends, when diving to extreme depths by allowing the user to breathe....a liquid?!

The new suit allows its wearer to breathe a specialized liquid chock-full of oxygen molecules; called a PFC or perfluorocarbon, the liquid can store large amounts of dissolved oxygen.

The reason it works is because our lungs will absorb oxygen in most shapes and forms as long as it comes in the amounts we need to drive our metabolic functions. Water normally doesn't have enough dissolved oxygen, so we end up suffocating when we inhale it, on top of that our respiratory system hasn't really evolved to process oxygen dissolved in water....unless you count our primordial state as gill breathers.

The iffy issue with this new scuba method becomes apparent right away: wouldn't we have to practically fill up our lungs with enough of it to breathe the oxygen?...That's precisely right. To make use of it you would have to fill the entire scuba helmet, your lungs, your mouth, and your nose with the liquid. You would be basically drowning first before it starts working. To me the thought of having to drown first before scuba diving is kind of scary.

Although once it kicks in, the whole drowning business goes away and you're left breathing exactly like you would on the air infested surface. This part may take forever to get used to, and once people get over their fear of dying everytime they dive it should be fine. What's not fine is the way you have to exhale.

Because you can't breathe out the carbon dioxide that builds up in your blood, the obvious solution is to ...insert an artificial gill that fits snugly into your femoral vein to scrub out the CO2? The drowning business was bad enough, but I think few people would want a large bore needle sticking out from near their privates while they scuba dive. That part may simply be too much.

Regardless of the near death stuff, the idea is quite cool, I'm just not sure the world would be ready for it yet. Although it would definitely be an experience to story tell about.

To read more:

The Independent (with pictures).
Mother Nature Network.


  1. I wonder how they get all the liquid out from the lungs after diving is over, seems like there should be some liquid left at the bottom. Any idea how its done?

    Completely emptying them in one go might make the lungs collapse.

  2. I'd like to know the same thing, it seems like you would have to go through an ordeal every time you put it on and take it off.

    Another reader also pointed out that PFCs have been found to damage alveoli in long term use.

    If you find out please let me know, I'm as curious as you are about how they're going to practically implement this.

  3. this is new? this technology was featured in the movie The Abyss.

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  5. Eric, et. al. PFC's vaporize rapidly at standard temperature and pressure. The lung simply drys out after a short period, at least in the mice it was initially tested in.

  6. yea, this was totally in the Abyss.