Interview by Michael Flatt
Deep in the belly of South Campus sits UB’s hyperbaric chamber. It can be pressurized to simulate conditions a mile underwater, or it can mimic near-space altitudes. The roughly 600-cubic-foot, solid-steel chamber is used to study the effects of these various pressures on the body. Only a handful of similar chambers exist outside U.S. military bases, and, according to the manufacturer, this is the only one in the world that can replicate such deep-ocean pressures. The 1970s-era communication system and air-quality monitors were updated this spring, but, says David Hostler, chair of exercise and nutrition sciences at UB and principal investigator on a current study examining dehydration risk for Navy divers, “Some things never change. A hyperbaric chamber never gets more complicated than turning valves on and off.”
The box is taken inside the chamber, and the bag inside collects exhaled gas. The collected gas displaces gas already inside the box, and that’s how you measure pressures and volumes. You can also make calculations about workload, nitrogen elimination and more based on the exhaled gas.
These allow you to bring wiring inside the cylinder without all the pressure escaping. There are 80-some-odd penetrators on the chamber.
The fire suppression in this room uses halon [gas]. There’s a lot of expensive equipment in here, and if there’s a fire, you don’t want to dump water all over it. The halon displaces all the oxygen in the room. If there’s someone in the chamber, the chamber operator can’t just get up and leave, so that mask provides the operator with breathable air if the halon is released.
Any deep chamber has a main lock and an entry lock. If you’re in the main lock and the chamber is set at 100 feet of pressure, and you have to bring in equipment or personnel, you can’t just shoot back to the surface. You’ll get the bends, aka decompression sickness.
That is used to soak up excess carbon dioxide inside the chamber. If we did a long dive, we might put a whole bucket in there to scavenge extra dioxide in the air. You can reuse it, but you’d have to bake it, so we usually just throw it away.
UB’s hyperbaric chamber is a product of three generations of alumni. It was built in the 1970s by J.M. Canty Inc., of Pendleton, N.Y., whose founder, the late John M. Canty, held two UB engineering degrees (MS ’54, BS ’52). His son, company president Tod Canty (MBA ’82, BS ’77), and granddaughter Meredith Canty (BS ’12) were involved with the chamber’s upgrades. Nothing like a little pressure to bring a family together!
Great to see the chamber upgraded and still working!
I did the very first saturation dive there in the late 80's. Keep up the good work.