The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Working In An Underwater Lab

I am a scientist in human physiology. I study how the body works in extremes of environments. I lived on mountains and underwater. I slept outdoors in snow to study cold adaptation. I spun pilots in centrifuges until their faces looked like shar pei puppies. I make grown men cry.

Readers asked for stories of when I lived the extremes myself.

Here is a story when I worked and lived in an underwater lab.

I didn't have a camera then, and have few photos from those years, so at right is a photo of an underwater lab found on the Internet using a search of the terms "underwater lab."

You live many meters underwater in a metal structure that keeps out the water. It is an air pocket the size of a big room and the air you breathe is under pressure equal to the surrounding water depth. Since you live there for days, or weeks, the lab has a kitchen. Cooking and using the bathroom in the higher pressure is for another story.

To get to the lab you need to dive down underwater. You can wear scuba gear or use a long surface supplied hose. Occasionally a reporter would come visit the facility and want to stay in the underwater lab for a day to get a story. We, the staff, would teach them enough to use the air supply safely to get them down and back up after their stay, and transport their sometimes large and unwieldy suitcases for them in watertight containers.

One day, another staff member and I helped a reporter dive down to the lab, helped her inside, all nice and dry, and left here there to set up her typewriter (this was a long time ago before laptops and wireless devices). We returned to the surface and put the air hoses away. Shortly later, we decided to free dive back down to check on her.

We took a deep breath, held our breath and dived
down down down

We thumped on the big tempered glass portholes trying to get her attention.

thump thump!
(holding breath)

thump thump thump!
(holding breath longer)

longer... oooooooh!

She noticed us. She was delighted to see two mer-people swimming in the blue depths outside. She waived at us gaily. We hovered swimming weightlessly outside in the blue, holding our breath.

She raised her two hands, making a camera gesture.
She clicked a finger in air and then pointed it to tell us - "Wait!"

Through the porthole we watched her pawing around for her suitcase to find her camera.
(still holding our breath, outside in the deep blue water)

She looked and looked. She scattered clothes and bags.

The other staff and I used a swallowing technique to extend breath-hold time -uuuuuuuuuuuMH

Finally, a camera waved at the view port.

She positioned the camera to take our photo.

(Still holding our breath waiting, waiting).

She held up the camera .... She leaned back, ... She stopped and oriented the camera the other way, ..... She leaned to the side

She gestured WAIT!! She gestured, "I have to get it just right! Just a moment longer just WAIT."


She got the photo. We saw the flash bounce off the glass, knowing the photo would never come out. She didn't seem fazed.

She held up one finger and pantomimed through the glass - "Wait - one more!"

"The cure for everything is salt water — sweat, tears or the sea."
— Isak Dinesen

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Underwater lab photo by Michael Rupert
Photo of me free diving © copyright Dr. Jolie Bookspan

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.