Feeds

Bubbly billygoat-bursting boffinry brouhaha at MoD

Caprine-fizzing experiment moratorium outrage

Application security programs and practises

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has finally been challenged by animal-rights groups over a long-running programme of experimentation in which goats - among other animals - have been deliberately given the bends in decompression chambers.

Rather than a malevolent hatred of cloven-hoofed creatures, the tests in question were motivated by scientific inquiry into diving and submarine safety. Many trials have been carried out over recent decades at the Alverstoke research facilities in Gosport, formerly by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). The Alverstoke lab was deemed to be something the private sector would like when DERA was largely sold off under the name QinetiQ in 2001.

Your correspondent visited Alverstoke ten years ago in the DERA days, as part of the navy-diver training course, though we didn't see any goats getting bent (so to speak). The staff there were already well aware that their days of putting goats through aggressive decompression regimes were probably numbered. The prevailing view seemed to be that as soon as the animal-lib tendency found out what was going on, experiments would cease; and according to The Herald of Scotland, this has now (finally) happened.

The idea of the goat-bothering trials - and the many other trials using humans, or just test equipment - is to improve safety for people in hyperbaric underwater environments.

For those who don't know, whenever human beings (or animals) are subjected to greater-than-normal pressures - as when diving, or during submarine accidents - their body tissues move gradually into a different equilibrium with the breathing gas. Such gas has to contain a high proportion of inert constituents such as nitrogen or helium, as oxygen is poisonous at high pressures.

The inert gas gets absorbed into the body tissues over time, and lurks there like the bubbles in an unopened bottle of coke - which isn't a problem of itself. The snags come when the person (or goat) moves back to lower pressures, as in the case of a diver surfacing or pressure in a hyperbaric chamber being released.

The trick is to let the pressure down gradually, as if opening the coke bottle just a tiny crack. If you let the gas out of a coke bottle slowly enough, after a while it will have gone completely flat without a single visible bubble ever forming. Likewise, a diver who surfaces sufficiently slowly will have no problems.

But sometimes you need to get up out of the water faster than that. Your submarine may be in trouble, or maybe you need to clear up a minefield in a rush, or perhaps you don't have infinite supplies of breathing gas. So you speed things up a bit, and you start to fizz.

If the bubbles are small enough, that could be fine. But at some point, they start to cause problems in the body. They can make nerves and muscles act involuntarily, doubling up people's limbs (a classic "bend"). Moving on up the severity scale, they can knock out your vision, cause excruciating pain, fatal brain damage, paralysis, heart failure, etc.

Other things than fizzing body fluids can go wrong, too. If you inadvertently hold your breath under falling pressure, your lungs can burst. A minor puncture may not be a big deal, but a serious one can cause an embolism which will finish you before the bends get a chance. Just by way of extra toppings, if you aren't careful your eardrums can rip during a fast change; you can suffer inner-ear damage; your sinuses might gush fluid or blood; your guts can rupture - especially if you've been drinking coke; and if you're really unlucky and have a shitty dentist, one or more of your teeth could explode.

It's great, being a diver.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.