The Day – The sub-base laboratory celebrates 75 years of medical research

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Groton – For 75 years, scientists have been at the forefront of medical research at the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory, designed to improve the health, safety and performance of submariners.

The lab will celebrate its 75th anniversary on Wednesday, June 25, with a ceremony at the Submarine Force Library and Museum. The scientists offered a media visit on Monday, highlighting some of their research on wearable technology, hearing preservation, decompression and underwater exercises.

The laboratory’s anechoic chamber, a large cinder block and fiberglass cube that absorbs sound, eliminates any background noise or echo in space. In this chamber, scientists are studying how different types of hearing protection equipment work to prevent hearing loss and damage, a common disability in the military.

Sailors participating in these studies are seated in the center of the room and are asked to identify which of the 180 small speakers in the room sound is coming from. This helps researchers identify the impact of protective gear on sailors’ ability to locate where different sounds are coming from.

“We are studying this to make sure that the devices we use to protect people’s hearing do not impact their ability to tell where sounds are coming from,” said research engineer Derek Schwaller, and “to make sure they don’t miss any signal of something that could be dangerous.

Dr Stephanie Karch, a research audiologist, said the aim of this research is to prevent hearing loss and to understand which hearing protection devices are best for certain people and particular environments.

In other sound-related experiments, research physiologist and head of the combatant performance department, Dr Brandon Casper, explained how scientists are testing the impact of underwater blasts on divers to, hopefully, “To reduce any risk of divers being injured underwater by noise such as sonar and underwater explosives.”

Scientists deploy seismic air cannons, which explode in a large reservoir of water, to simulate the sound of explosions that divers might hear underwater. The explosion takes the tank off the ground for a few seconds.

For the study, scientists are using a dummy named Quint – a replica of a human torso that includes a complete skeletal system and organs – to see how explosions and sonar will affect someone who hears them underwater. Other tests use a mannequin head, fitted with in-ear microphones, inside a diver’s helmet to determine how much sound is actually reaching a diver’s ears.

“These studies help us make recommendations so that divers can accomplish their missions and stay safe,” Casper said.

In another part of the lab, divers go underwater in a 10-foot-deep pool and ride exercise bikes. While they cycle – typically for around 90 minutes – a tablet attached to the bike asks them questions that help scientists assess their decision-making abilities, response time, and overall cognitive function.

Researchers can change things like water temperature, bike speed and resistance, and the thickness of divers’ suits to see what conditions they perform best, said research psychologist Dr Justin. Handy. The goal, said Handy, is to see how underwater physical exertion affects the thinking of divers.

The lab also houses the Genesis Hypo / Hyperbaric Chamber, which scientists use to help improve the decompression process for divers.

The chamber, which simulates an underwater or deep-water environment, pioneered research in the 1950s and 1960s that helped scientists understand how divers can safely resurface.

“And it all started here,” said Louis Deflice, head of the Dive Research Department, acknowledging the role the Groton Research Lab has played in diving research around the world.

Typically, Deflice said, it takes about a day of decompression for every 100 feet a diver dives. This means that if divers descend 1,000 feet, it can take them more than ten days to safely resurface. In the event of a submarine malfunction or emergency, divers may need to rise to the surface much faster than that.

Research conducted at Groton is helping scientists understand how to help divers who find themselves in emergency situations. The chamber is currently undergoing major renovations, with plans to resume human experiments in the chamber next March, Scientific Director Dr David Fothergill said.

The overall goal of this research, said Fothergill, is “to provide better survivability for divers in an emergency situation” and to make the decompression process easier and safer.

“The research we do is essential for our underwater warriors to be able to ensure that they accomplish their missions safely,” he said.

In other parts of the lab, scientists like research physiologist Dr Jeffrey Bolkhovsky are working on wearable technologies such as watches and glasses that monitor physiological responses such as heart rate, sweating, eye movements, and expressions. facial.

These devices can help scientists understand when and under what conditions individuals perform best to help improve individualized planning, Bolkhovsky said.

Glasses can also help alert others to emergency situations on submarines by monitoring facial expressions and emotional reactions – such as anger or surprise – of people who wear them. If a group of people working in the same area simultaneously express fear or surprise, other people aboard the submarine can take note of that reaction and potentially be alerted more quickly to an emergency, Bolkhovsky said.

Commander Joseph Decicco, head of the Department of Underwater Medicine and Survival Systems, said another study involving wearable technology examines how the circadian rhythms of submariners are affected by being under the water for long periods.

The Navy uses blue light goggles and blue light goggles to help submariners – working without access to the sun for long periods of time – sleep better and be more alert at the start of their day, by simulating the day and night with blue light.

This type of physiological monitoring is intended to help the Navy individualize schedules and practices to make the work of submariners safer and improve their performance, by understanding how they perform best.

“We want to try to make their life easier, we want to try to give them the best tools they have to perform best in class,” Bolkhovsky said.

Last week, Governor Ned Lamont issued a proclamation naming June 25 Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory Day.

The Navy will hold a ceremony at the museum on Wednesday. The ceremony will include speeches from several naval scientists involved in the lab’s research and will celebrate the lab’s anniversary.

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