Deep sea diving has been around since the Greeks. The adventure has been used to salvage ships, recover weapons and save lives of submariner. Now, one company has invested $600,000 to build one suit that has already flushed out New York City tunnels and will be used next to collect glow-in-the-dark fish.
It’s six feet and six inches tall and weighs 530-pounds. Built out of aluminum the suit looks like something out of Toy Story. Actually it has a different purpose. Scientists will use the suit, known as the Exosuit, to go up to 1,000 feet deep into the ocean with the goal of collecting bioluminescent fish. At those depths, with no visible light, there are millions of mysterious glowing fish living. The Exosuit will allow scientists to study the fish like never before.
An “atmospheric diving system,” the Exosuit protects the operator in a bubble of friendly conditions. A diver using the suit will feel the same pressure that someone on the earth’s surface feels. An added benefit is the decompression chamber is no longer needed.
Suits like this have been around for over one hundred years. This version is lighter and allows the diver to move more precisely. The Exosuit has 18 rotary joints that allow the operator to move their arms and legs almost as if they were on the beach instead of deep in the ocean.
Michael Lombardi, dive safety officer for the American Museum of Natural History, will be the Exosuit’s latest inhabitant when he makes the deep-sea dives later in the year. Light enough that a diver could use his arms and legs to swim, the suit has four 1.6 horsepower thrusters that will assist with movement. Connected by a tether to a ship on the surface, the suit has enough battery power and oxygen onboard to keep the diver alive for up to 50 hours.
The Exosuit that Lombardi will be using is the only one of its kind in existence. Costing $600,000, the suit is on display at the AMNH in New York until the first week in March. Lombardi’s trip won’t be the first one the suit has made. It’s seen some activity in commercial arena since it was built in 2012. One of the biggest projects it’s been used on is the huge underground water tunnels that service New York City.
During Lombardi’s dive, scientists want to accomplish two things. First, to observe the bioluminescent fish that use chemical reactions to show off unique light patterns. Scientists want to know how the fish diversified where there are no barriers to prevent cross-breeding. To find out, Lombardi will have the Exosuit equipped with a suction device to capture specimens. The fish will be placed in a “cartridge” and put in front of a sensitive camera attached to a submerged vehicle called the DeepReef-ROV. A fiber-optic connection will send the data to the surface where scientists will be able to study it.
The other goal for the trip is to see if the fish can help researchers understand the human brain. Vincent Pieribone of Yale University, is working on a plan to harvest the proteins in the fish to see how their brains work. Combining DNA with the fish’s proteins, scientists hope the modifications can read out the electrical activity of a brain or organism. The next step for Pieribone would be to use the knowledge gained to help persons with brain injuries interact with machines and robotic tools.
To get to that step, Pieribone needs the right proteins. That’s the other reason behind the deep-sea dive in the world’s only Exosuit.
By Jerry Nelson