Oxygen: The Future
- Pp. 316-348 (33)Olen R. Brown
Oxygen has had a long history; it was the 18th element to be discovered of 118 known elements, of which 28 have been created artificially. Oxygen is essential for all aerobic life on earth and pure oxygen at various partial pressures and mixed with other gases is used as a medicine for conditions where the oxygen supply is inadequate, including for premature infants whose lungs are not completely developed. Oxygen is also used for pathologies where oxygen supply to tissues is compromised. Oxygen is a component in gas mixtures used for deep-water diving for sport, recreation, salvage, exploration and mining. Oxygen is a requirement for manned space flight and commercial air travel. In the future, it is a certainty that all of these uses and requirements will continue. It is almost as sure that things now predictable based on past and current research and things as yet unimagined are destined to happen in the future. For therapy, it is probable that artificial blood that adequately perfuses the body will be routine. For recreation, it is likely that private oxygen chambers will get fancier and be more widely used, as will oxygen as a novelty is “sports” bars. In sports, the use of oxygen in breathing mixtures for deep-sea diving and by free divers will continue although it is difficult to see how current records can be much extended. Artificial gills will never become practical but by mimicking sea mammals, man may become as free as dolphins to explore the deeps. For endurance sports and sprints, oxygen supplementation, particularly for training recovery and its psychological effect, will become common and contribute to new records. Ways to manufacture oxygen cheaply and reliably will make possible undersea habitats that will include underwater cities. As future therapy, antioxidants and other oxidant stress protector molecules will allow expanded therapies for many conditions which are limited by the toxicity of oxygen. The most spectacular advance will be in artificial photosynthesis that will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provide oxygen and carbon-based fuels and power cells that will far outstrip solar cells.