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University of Malta project revolutionises diving

University of Malta project revolutionises diving

Have you ever heard of ‘the bends’? Also known as decompression sickness, it refers to the condition that occurs in divers when dissolved gases, mainly nitrogen, come out of solution in the bloodstream, forming gas bubbles in the circulation. It most commonly occurs during or soon after a decompression ascent from underwater diving.


In order to avoid the bends from striking, divers must return to the surface in a timed schedule. However, this exercise is in for a revolution following research by University of Malta scientists.The research is developing a personal decompression monitor (PerDeMon), to provide divers with accurate and real-time readings on their decompression schedule as they surface after a dive.

The €200,000 project led by Dr Joseph Caruana from the maths and physics faculty will look to revolutionise the industry.

“It is something which the diving industry has always sought. The diver is not swimming blindly, but they have no insurance on what is happening inside his body. You are lowering risks when you provide accurate readings on their body,” he said.

How do divers currently do it?

As it stands, divers keep track of the time at given depths via a dive computer, which has an algorithm to compute an ascent schedule. This device prescribes stops at given depths, to allow the inert gases to come out of the solution very slowly.

The schedule depends on the dive profile and the process is modelled within a generalised theoretical framework that is not diver-specific. Sometimes, the bends happens even when the followed dive profile is not expected to lead to such an outcome.

Enter the PerDeMon. The system will move away from a one-size-fits-all model. “Right now, diver surfacing is based on theory, and this dies not always work because body types are different.” It’s a state-of-the-art device, carrying a specialised sensor attached to the diver that will yield real-time data, which can be used to tailor the schedule to the individual diver to maximise safety.

What’s next?

When asked what the future holds for the project, Caruana said that the next research phase would not look to test the device within a hyperbaric chamber, to provide controlled conditions for the testing to happen. After that phase is completed, the device would be tested in actual dives, and if it passes all the tests and requirements, it would be the final validation of the project.

Key researchers in the project are Dr Joseph Caruana (department of physics and ISSA), professor Charles Sammut (department of physics), Dr Lourdes Farrugia (department of physics), Dr Lyubisa Matity (Mater Dei Hospital), Dr Andrea DeMarco (ISSA), Dr Iman Ferhat (department of physics) and Dr Julian Bonello (department of physics).

What do you think of the revolutionary project?