Helium: a, “philological atrocity”.*

Opening the first International Seminar on Helium Conservation (held in the UK in 1979, at Plymouth’s, Fort Bovisand Underwater Centre – then a world leader in providing commercial diver training for the North Sea gas and oil fields) Surgeon Vice-Admiral Sir John Rawlins (the then Medical Director General, Ministry of Defence, in the UK) stated, in part, “The search for energy is … moving into what has traditionally been man’s most mysterious domain, his last frontier on earth – the sea.  And the deeper he is forced to look for oil, the greater must be his technology and the more sophisticated his equipment.   …  The future management of the world stocks of helium requires considerable thought and discussion among the users.

The seminar attracted delegates from the major commercial diving organisations as well as equipment manufacturers, several of whom were engaged in the design and production of efficient Closed Circuit Rebreathers and gas recovery and purification systems, including Divematics, Shadow Pac CCR, the Normalair-Garrett, DD500, Divex’s, Arawak V CCR system, and Draeger, a company already well versed in the design and production of rebreathers.

The Draeger CCR was developed to make it possible for divers to descend to depths of 600 metres (1,968 ft).  Th

Draeger CCR with backmounted SCR bailout

e system’s helmet and bail out facilities were designed to create a safe and efficient underwater unit enabling the diver to breathe effortlessly while the exhaled gas would be recovered to the surface for purification.  After which the correct amount of oxygen would be added and the gas returned to the diver.

Because of the low temperature of helium, the unit featured a gas heater.  The semi-closed circuit bail-out backpack was connected to the helmet and provided ten minutes of gas supply that, in an emergency would hopefully allow the diver time to return to the safety of the diving bell.

*(In his presentation on helium’s origins, sources and methods of extraction, Alan Bodley, of BOC Special Gases, described Joseph Lockyer’s discovery of the new element, in 1868, that he named, ‘helium’, as being a, “philological atrocity, since he used the Greek word for sun with a Latin ending.”)


Categories: History

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