This Scientist is Living Underwater for 100 Days in Medical Experiment

Thanks to the pandemic, many of us have memories of feeling trapped in a small space for prolonged periods without any idea when we could escape.

So, would you try it again for 100 days while living in a 55-square-meter space 10 meters below the surface of the Florida Keys?

That’s the underwater quest Joe Delmuri began on March 1 at Jules’ Undersea Lodge, which describes itself as the only underwater habitat and hotel in the United States.

Delmuri’s resumé makes him a good candidate for this journey. He’s a 28-year diving veteran from the U.S. Navy and associate professor at the University of South Florida. He’ll even keep teaching his biomedical engineering class while living below the ocean, according to an article from his alma mater.

For Delmuri, the mission isn’t just about setting a new world record (the previous one is 73 days, set by two professors who also took up residence at Jules’ Undersea Lodge).

Since arriving at his new home on March 1, Delmuri has already made the first of a planned series of YouTube videos sharing his experience and explaining why it matters.

“The human body has never been underwater that long, so I will be monitored closely,” Dituri said. “This study will examine every way this journey impacts my body, but my null hypothesis is that there will be improvements to my health due to the increased pressure.”

Dituri is advancing conclusions found in some medical studies, which showed that cells exposed to increased pressure doubled within five days. This suggests the increased pressure has the potential to allow humans to increase their longevity. It could also prevent diseases associated with aging.

“So, we suspect I am going to come out super-human!” Dituri joked.

scuba diver breathing

Delmuri on a dive. Photo: University of South Florida


Medical tests and hopes for cures

A medical team will document the 55-year-old’s health by routinely diving to his habitat and running a series of tests. Dituri will also complete several psychosocial, psychological, and medical exams. Blood panels, ultrasounds and electrocardiograms, and even stem cell tests are on the docket.

He’ll serve as an underwater guinea pig for a psychologist and psychiatrist, who will monitor the mental effects of living in an isolated environment for an extended period — not unlike space travel.

With so much time away from the sun, Delmuri will likely suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, as well as an interruption of the body’s circadian rhythms. He hopes the research on his body will help the many military veterans suffering from brain damage.

“Many of my brothers and sisters in the military suffered traumatic brain injuries and I wanted to learn how to help them,” said Delmuri. “I knew well that hyperbaric pressure could increase cerebral blood flow and hypothesized it could be used to treat traumatic brain injuries…[and] a broad spectrum of diseases.”

Birth of an idea

Delmuri’s revelatory moment for this mission happened in 2012, right after his retirement from the U.S. Navy as a commander. That year, he helped evaluate James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger submersible before the film director’s famous dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

That dive brought back several organisms new to science, including sea lice with a compound that could help treat Alzheimer’s Disease.

“This discovery from the ocean depths could open the door to a new frontier of bioprospecting,” Wired wrote at the time.

For Delmuri, his goal is to excite people about the possibilities of saving and exploring the planet.

“Everything we need is on this planet. Everything we need is here. We have the yin; we have the yang. We have the disease; we have the cure. We just need to look where we’ve never looked before.”

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.