One of the most unique pieces of research equipment at UB is about to get a makeover. The three-decades-old hyperbaric chamber housed in Sherman Annex on the South Campus is being upgraded, and the project will be handled by a Western New York company whose three generations of UB engineering graduates know the chamber inside and out.
Built in the 1970s, this is the second set of significant upgrades being made to the chamber, the first occurring about 15 years ago. UB received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research for the project.
The work will be done by Pendleton, NY-based J.M. Canty Inc., whose founder, the late John M. Canty, built the chamber. He earned two engineering degrees from UB in the early 1950s. His son, current company president Mr. Tod Canty, graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and obtained his MBA from UB in 1982. Mr. Tod Canty’s daughter, Ms. Meredith Canty, who also will be involved with the project, is a 2012 UB engineering graduate.
What makes UB’s hyperbaric chamber unique is the ability to fill one end with water. This allows researchers to conduct experiments at the pressure equivalent of up to 5,600 feet of seawater, a depth that isn’t survivable by humans. The chamber is also hypobaric, meaning it can be used for altitude experiments up to 120,000 feet.
“This is a piece of infrastructure that I can say with a fair level of confidence only exists outside of military bases in three or four places in the U.S.,” says Dr. Dave Hostler, chair of the department of exercise and nutrition sciences, School of Public Health and Health Professions. “You just don’t find these types of chambers outside of military bases, and even those are becoming rare,” Hostler says, adding that the majority of hyperbaric chambers are used in clinical practice and can’t get wet.
Dr. Hostler’s current research focuses on the dangers that dehydration presents for U.S. Navy divers and the cardiac strain associated with diving. His lab is examining diver physiology both during and after underwater activities. He plans to conduct additional experiments in the refurbished hyperbaric chamber starting this spring.
“The hyperbaric chamber at UB is still the highest rated chamber in the world. It simulates a mile of ocean depth — no other facility comes close to that,” says Mr. Tod Canty, who took over the company after his father died in 1979.
Work on the chamber will begin in February and include safety and communication system upgrades, as well as enhancements to accommodate new technology and research techniques. Other work includes gas-pressure testing, replacing seals, replumbing the gas system and some rewiring.
In addition, Dr. Hostler has partnered with a New Hampshire company that’s working on a new communication system for hardhat divers — Navy and commercial divers who have to wear helmets during salvage operations and underwater repair activities. “The communication systems in those helmets is still 1950s technology,” explains Dr. Hostler, adding that the tests will help lead to improved systems that can be applied to the commercial diving sector.
Hostler and his colleague Dr. Blair Johnson, assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences, received an additional grant from the Office of Naval Research to study how carotid bodies — sensory organs in the neck that detect changes in oxygen levels in arterial blood — function in the high-oxygen conditions associated with diving and depth.