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This 500-pound "Iron Man" suit is ready for deep sea diving

author

Janet Fang

Staff Writer

clockMar 5 2014, 06:41 UTC
376 This 500-pound "Iron Man" suit is ready for deep sea diving
Nuytco Research Ltd.
 
Putting on this monstrous suit means you can dive down 1,000 feet at surface pressure. Once there, you can get samples of little jellies and take high-resolution pictures of bioluminescent fish -- all with the dexterity and maneuverability you wouldn’t expect from 6.5 feet and 530 pounds of hard metal. 
 
The thing about being a thousand feet down is that the ocean pressure is about 30 times greater than the surface. Our access to these deeper open water and reef habitats has been limited, and to study organisms that live or migrate through there, researchers normally rely on remote instruments, and sometimes even trawl nets. 
 
The new suit offers scientists unprecedented access to “an entirely new realm of unexplored ocean space,” Michael Lombardi of the American Museum of Natural History says in a press release. Protected from effects of pressure, Exosuit users can accomplish three to five hours of underwater work in environments where a wet diver would only have minutes. Some highlights
 
  • - A fiber-optic tether provides two-way communication and topside monitoring of pressure and oxygen.
  • - Oxygen systems allow for multi-hour dives, with up to 50 hours of life support. 
  • - For propulsion, four 1.6-horsepower water-jet thrusters are controlled by pressure-sensitive foot pads. 
  • - 18 oil-lubricated rotary joints in the arms and legs allow movement and articulation of specialized accessories for delicate tasks, such as using suction tools to move creatures into the field of view of the camera. 
 
This first-production Exosuit, the only one in existence, was designed by Nuytco Research Ltd. and is owned by J.F. White Contracting Company. The suit itself costs $600,000, which doesn’t include all the support equipment. 
 
It’ll be tested as a scientific tool this July in canyons about 100 miles off the New England coast. In particular, researchers on the Stephen J. Barlow Bluewater Expedition will use the suit to help take high-resolution images of marine animals in the mesopelagic (or mid-water) zone to study bioluminescence, when animals generate visible light through a chemical reaction. One of the goals is to identify new bioluminescent proteins, which are useful for cancer cell tagging and the development of brain activity probes.
 
“Bioluminescent proteins can be used to translate invisible processes in cells into flashes of light, allowing scientists to open new doors into cell function and dysfunction. Modern optical methods to monitor and manipulate cellular function have dramatically advanced the field of experimental biology,” says the expedition’s chief scientist, Vincent Pieribone of Yale. “Currently there are only a few bioluminescent proteins in use by scientists, but the deep ocean is full of glowing organisms and offers the richest hunting grounds for new discoveries.” 
 
The Exosuit was on display at the AMNH for a brief week. (I didn’t get to see it either.)
 
 

Image: Nuytco Research Ltd.
 

Technology
  • bioluminescence,

  • deep sea,

  • oceanography