Oxygen and me

We all know we need oxygen to survive. We know we breath it in, to have it saturate our red blood cells. We should also know that the end destination is the mitochondria in our cells, where it can be converted into life giving energy in the form of ATP. But how often have we considered the mechanisms of that journey?


This visual is the easiest. Oxygen enters through our mouths, down our trachea, through our bronchi, bronchioles, and ultimately to our alveoli, the terminal sacs in our lungs. Here, oxygen will diffuse through the thin alveolar membrane into the surrounding capillaries.

Alveolar exchange

Because the red blood cells entering the lungs are saturated with CO2, a strong concentration gradient is established. This allows oxygen to easily diffuse through alveolar walls, capillary walls, the blood plasma, red blood cell membrane, and red blood cell cytoplasm to  reach the hemoglobin within.

Cellular respiration

Oxygenated blood is distributed throughout the body. Once it reaches the slow flowing capillaries of distant organs and appendages, a reversal in concentration gradients causes the oxygen to diffuse out of the red blood cells. Once they traverse the blood plasma and interstitial fluids, they find themselves inside a cell. In muscles, myoglobin helps to speed oxygen molecules along in a binding-cascade to reach the mitochondria.

Concept art and storyboards - Geoffrey L Cheung

Media - Adobe Photoshop

Agency - Anatomical Travelogue, The Visual MD

Collaborators - Project management: Laura Gibson, Erin Daniel.