Materials (Jan 2014)

Plastron Respiration Using Commercial Fabrics

  • Shaun Atherton,
  • Joseph C. Brennan,
  • Robert H. Morris,
  • Joshua D.E. Smith,
  • Christopher A.E. Hamlett,
  • Glen McHale,
  • Neil J. Shirtcliffe,
  • Michael I. Newton

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 7, no. 1
pp. 484 – 495


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A variety of insect and arachnid species are able to remain submerged in water indefinitely using plastron respiration. A plastron is a surface-retained film of air produced by surface morphology that acts as an oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange surface. Many highly water repellent and hydrophobic surfaces when placed in water exhibit a silvery sheen which is characteristic of a plastron. In this article, the hydrophobicity of a range of commercially available water repellent fabrics and polymer membranes is investigated, and how the surface of the materials mimics this mechanism of underwater respiration is demonstrated allowing direct extraction of oxygen from oxygenated water. The coverage of the surface with the plastron air layer was measured using confocal microscopy. A zinc/oxygen cell is used to consume oxygen within containers constructed from the different membranes, and the oxygen consumed by the cell is compared to the change in oxygen concentration as measured by an oxygen probe. By comparing the membranes to an air-tight reference sample, it was found that the membranes facilitated oxygen transfer from the water into the container, with the most successful membrane showing a 1.90:1 ratio between the cell oxygen consumption and the change in concentration within the container.