Breaking Down Science, Step by Step

At the climax of the original Godzilla, Dr Serizawa activated the "Oxygen Destroyer", killing the beast, and then himself ensuring that his terrible weapon could never be re-created.

It's just science fiction right? Surely there isn't a glimmer of a scientific basis in a film about a giant atomic monster wrecking Tokyo ?


Scientists claim to have made a substance that so potently absorbs oxygen that one spoonful of it can remove 99% of the oxygen from a room. That oxygen destroyer doesn't seem quite so fictional now, does it ?

How does this substance work ?

This substance works in a sort of a similar way to the haemoglobin in your blood. Haemoglobin is a protein which holds onto an ion of Iron that attracts Oxygen to it. I don't want to go too much into it, but oxygen has a slight negative charge because of two "extra electrons" on it's surface.These are attracted to the positively charged Iron Ion in the haemoglobin. This is the reaction that allows blood to carry oxygen.

There have been attempts to create synthetic oxygen absorbers, but none of them have been as good as Haemoglobin. Until now.

The material they have made has a four Cobalt ions (in purple) held in place by nitrogen atoms (blue) and oxygen atoms (red), which themselves are enclosed within a framework of carbon atoms (grey).


The Cobalt Ions attract Oxygen to this structure in the same way that Iron does in Haemoglobin. At room temperature, it can suck out oxygen from air. They can vary the structure of the compound to alter how long that process takes.


It can store oxygen gas at a 160 times the density it's found in air.

What's more, if you heat up this compound, you can get the oxygen back.

How is that useful?

Apart from destroying metaphorical incarnations of the atomic age ?

Well for start, it allows for a safe way of transporting oxygen. Pressurised Oxygen canisters can be a bit on the dangerous side. But its more than that.


It provides a simple way of purifying oxygen from the air. There are patients who need to breath pure oxygen, and this technology enables the creation of machines that can purify oxygen directly out of the air and deliver it to the lungs of patients. They no longer need to lug around hefty oxygen canisters, when a filter using this compound could be used to directly purify it from the air.

They can also help purify oxygen from the air to make hydrogen fuel cells more powerful and efficient. There is a huge potential for this technology.


Is it really all it's cracked up to be?

Well, most of these pronouncements are mostly theoretical. They've tested them on the smaller scale. To actually scale this up and keep that efficiency requires a lot more work. You won't be getting your oxygen re-breathers just quite yet, and I am afraid that Godzilla will be still be able to stamp his way across Tokyo unchallenged.


Image Credit

Screenshot from the Godzilla (1954)

Chemical structure published in the paper's abstract



"Oxygen chemisorption/desorption in a reversible single-crystal-to-single-crystal transformation" in Chemical Science.

Edit: The Spoonful of sugar comment that they put forward in their press release was a vast overstatement of this compounds efficacy. A 10 litre bucket would be required to remove oxygen from the air. Furthermore, a lot of news articles have been reporting that this compound could be used as a set of artificial gills, when the paper itself suggests that this compound would not work in an aqueous state.

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