Generating pure oxygen
Countless children in low-income countries die each year because they have no access to medical-grade oxygen, a cruel fact that led a determined group of University of Melbourne students and academics to develop an ingenious solution.
The FREO2 group has conquered the seemingly impossible task of generating and storing pure oxygen without electrical power by using a simple device known to ancient Greeks and Egyptians – the siphon.
“The problem we’re dealing with is the biggest killer of kids in the world, and that’s pneumonia,” says Associate Professor in Physics and FREO2 co-founder, Dr Roger Rassool (BSc(Hons) 1982, PhD 1996). “That fact surprises many people because they think it’s AIDS or malaria,” he says.
“If you can provide them with concentrated oxygen for 48 hours it improves their chances of recovery by 30 or 40 per cent.”
“To treat a child with pneumonia you need antibiotics of course, but many will die anyway. If you can provide them with concentrated oxygen for 48 hours it improves their chances of recovery by 30 or 40 per cent.”
FREO2 began in 2011 with Rassool and physics post-doctoral fellows Dr Bryn Sobott (BSc(Hons) 2004, PhD 2010), pictured above right with Dr Rassool, and Dr David Peake (BSc(Hons) 2006, PhD 2012), who partnered with Associate Professor Jim Black from the Nossal Institute for Global Health. It has grown into a larger foundation of academics and volunteers.
The team spent years looking at options like steam engines, until Sobott flipped the problem and realised mechanical power wasn’t needed. The vacuum created in a siphon generates enough power to separate nitrogen from air and leave enriched oxygen. All that is needed is a small stream nearby.