Extracorporeal oxygenators are artificial devices that substitute for anatomical lungs by delivering oxygen to, and extracting carbon dioxide from, blood. They were first conceptualised by the English scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703) and developed into practical extracorporeal oxygenators by French and German experimental physiologists in the 19th century. Indeed, most of the extracorporeal oxygenators used until the late 1970s were derived from von Schroder's 1882 bubble oxygenator and Frey and Gruber's 1885 film oxygenator. As there is no intervening barrier between blood and oxygen, these are called 'direct contact' oxygenators; they contributed significantly to the development and practice of cardiac surgery till the 1980s. Membrane extracorporeal oxygenators introduce a gas-permeable interface between blood and oxygen. This greatly decreased the blood trauma of direct-contact extracorporeal oxygenators, and enabled extracorporeal oxygenators to be used in longer-term applications such as the intensive therapy of respiratory distress syndrome; this was demonstrably beneficial for neonates but less so for older patients. Much work since the 1960s focused on overcoming the gas exchange handicap of the membrane barrier, leading to the development of high-performance microporous hollow-fibre oxygenators that eventually replaced direct-contact oxygenators in cardiac theatres.