The Mischievous Side of Oxygen: Why It’s Not All About Breathing Easy

Chris Ferrie
4 min readJan 2, 2024

When we think of oxygen, we usually think of the breath of life — an invisible friend keeping us alive. But what if I told you that oxygen has a mischievous side, a sort of Jekyll and Hyde personality that plays a more… let’s say, complicated role in our lives?

Oxygen’s Vital Role

Seeming essential for living and breathing, oxygen is celebrated for its life-giving properties. It’s the unsung hero of our daily existence, playing a pivotal role in some of the most fundamental processes of life. Every breath we take is a testament to oxygen’s necessity — it fuels our cells, allowing them to produce the energy we need for everything from running a marathon to simply thinking about running one, which is my preference.

But oxygen’s role goes beyond just respiration. It supports our brain function, quite literally powering our thoughts, memories, and decisions. It’s a key player in our metabolic processes, helping to convert the food we eat into usable energy. In fact, without oxygen, our cells would quickly succumb to energy starvation, and the complex mechanisms that keep us alive would grind to a halt faster than an iPhone 4 without a power bank.

Moreover, oxygen is a cornerstone of our very existence on Earth. It shapes our environment, from the rust-red hue of urban landscapes to the azure skies we gaze into. It’s a critical component of the water molecule, making up the oceans, rivers, and rain that sustain all life on our planet. In essence, oxygen is not just a chemical element but a fundamental building block of the world as we know it.

However, as if it were the star of an M Night Shyamalan film, there’s a twist in oxygen’s tale…

The Dark Side of Oxygen

Oxygen, despite its essential role in life, moonlights in some less benevolent activities. The secret lies in its molecular behavior — no cloak and dagger, just a tale of atoms and electrons.

Imagine oxygen as a social butterfly in the cellular party, mingling and reacting with various molecules like it got hot over summer. In this dance, oxygen sometimes gets a bit overzealous, creating unstable molecules known as free radicals. These free radicals are more like rowdy party guests who ignored their positive COVID tests, damaging cells, causing aging, and probably spreading more conspiracy theories than viruses.

Free radicals are just a byproduct of necessary cellular metabolism enabled by oxygen. They cause aging by damaging DNA, proteins, and lipids in other cells. As we age, our body’s natural antioxidant defenses weaken, exacerbating this damage. Free radicals also cause inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction, further contributing to aging. Turns out we can’t have our invisible cake and eat it too.

A Reason To Hate The Universe

This dual nature of oxygen is a perfect example of the universe’s perverse complexity. Elements and phenomena we take for granted often have hidden facets, revealing the intricate scheming of the cosmos. In my book, 42 Reasons To Hate The Universe (And One Reason Not To), a witty and ironic guide to the universe’s indifference, that oxygen is quietly plotting against us is Reason 2. From the fragility of our planet (Reason 4) to the fact that even water wants you dead (Reason 23), each chapter unveils surprising and thought-provoking aspects of our cosmic home.

The book will be released on 7 Feb 2024. But, just to be sure, you better pre-order it now so you don’t miss out. Join us on this enlightening yet entertaining adventure with 42 Reasons To Hate The Universe (And One Reason Not To). It’s a book that promises to educate and entertain, leaving you with a newfound appreciation for the dark cosmic comedy that is our universe. And, look, I know you want to know what the “one reason” is, but you’re going to have to wait to find out!

Oxygen’s story is a reminder that there’s often more than meets the eye, especially in the vast and sometimes ironic universe we inhabit. It teaches us to look deeper, question more, and maybe even find humor in the unexpected.

What’s your take on oxygen’s dual personality? Do you know of other everyday elements with a hidden side? Share your thoughts and surprises in the comments!

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Dr. Chris Ferrie



Chris Ferrie

Quantum theorist by day, father by night. Occasionally moonlighting as a author.