The globe is warming, and the seas are rising. By 2100, the flooding of coastal cities could displace billions of people whose coastline has been submerged. And while we might mitigate some of this through resilient urban planning, the human species itself might have to adapt to survive.
At least that’s the vision of material scientist and RCA student Jun Kamei. In conjunction with the RCA-IIS Tokyo Design Lab, he created Amphibio, a 3D-printed garment that functions as a giant gill, allowing the wearer to pull oxygen from an aqueous environment and breathe it.
Kamei created the gill after studying the bodies of diving insects. Their skin is superhydrophobic, repelling water so greatly that it creates a tiny oxygen barrier between them and the water. This barrier not only keeps them dry, it also acts as a gas exchange, allowing oxygen dissolved in the water to be filtered out, into their bodies.
Amphibio is made of a similar, patent-pending porous, hydrophobic material–what’s referred to as a biomimetic design. “In the sea water, you have dissolved oxygen molecules due to constant mixing by waves. The gill is able to replenish itself with oxygen whenever the oxygen in the gill is consumed, as it is porous and lets the oxygen molecules in the water travel across its membrane,” says Kamei. “Similarly, the carbon dioxide that builds up in the system can be dissipated in the surrounding water, using the same mechanism.”
Ridges across the garment increase its surface area to maximize its ability to pull in oxygen toward a face mask that covers the wearer’s nose and mouth. And while Kamei has demonstrated that the garment works, it doesn’t work well enough for the breathing needs of a human being. He says at their current efficiency, the gills would need to be 344 square feet to supply enough oxygen for a person. That’s not the size of a garment; that’s the size of a micro apartment, or the equivalent surface area of a few SUVs.
Can Kamei improve his own technology to be more efficient? Could we one day wear something like the Amphibio instead of large scuba tanks to go diving? “The material can further be tuned to improve its oxygen intake property,” he says when we ask, but doesn’t get more specific than that.
In the meantime, Kamei plans to continue developing on the technology. He’s he’s got precisely 82 years to figure it out.