Aquaman gets a bad rap as a useless superhero because his powers of breathing liquid, diving to the deepest depths and talking to fish are only helpful underwater. Now scientists have made Aquaman even more useless by creating a diving suit that allows anyone who wears it to share those powers.
The amazing scuba suit, invented by American inventor and surgeon Arnold Lande, won't make it possible to talk to fish (Aquaman can still claim that ability as his own), but it will allow its wearer to breathe liquid and dive to deeper depths than were possible before, according to the Independent.
Currently the world record for the deepest scuba dive is 318 meters, set in June 2005 by South African diver Nuno Gomes. While it took Gomes only 14 minutes to descend to that depth, it took him 12 hours to return to the surface. If he had ascended any quicker, he would likely have died from a condition called decompression sickness, or what divers call "the bends."
Any creature that breathes air while ascending from a deep depth is susceptible to decompression sickness. That's the reason dives any deeper than Gomes' are impractical. The condition is caused by our reliance on compressed gasses to breathe underwater. As a diver ascends, the immense pressure of the ocean causes gasses in the blood to bubble like a can of soda.
The only way to bypass the effects of the bends would be to breathe liquid rather than air. That's what gave Lande the idea for his Aquaman-esque scuba suit.
"The beauty of doing it all from a liquid is that you don’t have to use these highly compressed gasses in the lungs that are going to dissolve into the blood," said Lande. "You have a liquid that you can infuse just as much oxygen as you need."
But how is breathing a liquid even possible? Science fiction fanatics may recall James Cameron's 1989 film, "The Abyss," which envisions the development of liquid ventilation. In the movie, actor Ed Harris' character is able to descend into an underwater trench thanks to a diving suit filled with oxygenated fluid. By breathing the fluid instead of air, he avoids decompression sickness.
Lande's suit would effectively be the actualization of the same technology. As in the movie, the suit would be filled with highly oxygenated fluid that the diver would have to learn to breathe. The suit would also be equipped with a mechanical gill that would attach to the diver's femoral vein in the leg, so that carbon dioxide (which we would normally breathe out) could be scrubbed from the bloodstream.
Helping premature babies, Navy Seals
The technology of liquid ventilation has already been tested. Not only have solutions of highly oxygenated perfluorocarbons (PFCs) been used to assist premature babies with breathing, but the U.S. Navy Seals also experimented with it in the early 1980s.
The biggest obstacle to Lande's suit finding a market won't be the technology — it will likely be convincing divers to take that first breath of liquid oxygen.
"The first trick you would have to learn is overcoming the gag reflex," explains Lande, "but once that oxygenated liquid is inside your lungs, it would feel just like breathing air."
"I'm sure someone out there would be willing," he added. "We’ve climbed the highest mountains, sent people into space. It’s time to find ways of exploring the deep oceans."
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