Inside a hyperbaric chamber, life is different.
Space is tight – smaller than a studio apartment (Approx. 168 cft.). Your surroundings consist of maybe a 2 ft x 7 ft bunk and controls for essential functions like communication to the surface team…all surrounded by a hard, metal shell.
Air pressure increases to equate to the subsea environment. Your voice changes (especially if helium is involved).
Then there’s nitrogen narcosis: the feeling of drunkenness – but with no hangover.
Oh, and you can’t whistle.
An Introduction to Diving: Physics & Medicine
It’s a bit hard to imagine. That’s why the Divers Institute of Technology (DIT) incorporates the hyperbaric chamber experience into their Physics and Medicine module.
It [Physics and Medicine] sets the foundation and rules of diving. Diving is just the transportation to work. Think of the disaster one would have driving to work without knowing how to drive a vehicle,” says Bradley “Pete” Peterson, one of DIT’s Physics and Medicine instructors.
For most, it’s vehicles. For astronauts, it’s rockets. For divers, it’s hyperbaric chambers.
The Pen Under Pressure: Classroom Learning
Before DIT instructors open the chamber door, students must learn about the as effects of gas at the molecular level. They study physics laws and theories in the classroom.
Instructors highlight several laws:
General Gas Law: Multiple laws concerning temperature, pressure and volume.
Boyle’s Law: As the ambient pressure increases the volume of a flexible vessel decreases. (I.e. lungs & dry suits)
Charles’s Law: In a flexible container if the temperature increases, the volume increases, and visa-versa
Gay-Lussac’s Law: In a non-flexible container when the temperature increases the pressure also increases and visa-versa.
Dalton’s Law: Inside inert gas volumes, the total partial pressure of each gas is equal to the complete pressure applied.
Henry’s Law: At a constant temperature, gas that dissolves into a liquid (respective to volume and type) corresponds to a partial pressure of the gas in equilibrium with the liquid.
Real-time Application & Diver Independence
In addition to studying the broader functions of gas, students also focus on specific applications within their field.
“The first thing a dive tender should know on the dive side is the air spread: How the air gets from the atmosphere to the diver and back to the atmosphere.”
Though commercial divers always work with teams, “Pete” emphasizes that every diver should increase his or her self-reliance through knowledge. Their mechanical understanding increases safe practices and project efficiency.
“If the air spread breaks, every diver on the team should know how to diagnose and fix it.”
Sickness & Injury: Preparation on
But machines aren’t the only thing that may encounter problems. Divers sometimes deal with sickness including decompression sickness also known as “the bends” a very serious complication of a diver returning to surface faster than his or her body can eliminate the inert gases that have built up from the dive.
Students study common diver illnesses in the classroom.
They learn what side effects to look for so that these sicknesses can be diagnosed and treated immediately (by Diver Medic Technicians). Instructors help students learn through videos and curriculum. Also, because all DIT instructors have experience in professional maritime work, they tell stories from their own experiences to help reinforce the facts.
Individual options can be interpreted for an organizations standard, we should stay away from this. For deeper dives in the US, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) legislate the proximity of the chambers.
“Time and distance to respective chambers is determined by OSHA and USCG regulation. OSHA says 100 feet of seawater (FSW), USCG 130 FSW; with any decompression dive and any mixed gas (any breathing media other than air), a chamber will be on station.. Every diver knows the first 33 FSW is the most dangerous.”
No Replacement for Hands-on
The Physics and Medicine module is the first of seven modules that DIT students work through. Everything the students learn here is foundational to the rest of their training. Most importantly, the course encourages direct, not second-hand, learning.
“There is no substitute for hands on,” “Pete” says.
Written by Matt Smith, Creator of Water Welders
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