Marlow Anderson Combines Love of Math and Scuba Diving in a New Book

When mathematics professor Marlow Anderson turned his love of scuba diving into a course, “The Mathematics of Scuba Diving,” in 2001, the possible textbooks were either too technical or too simple. “They were loathe to have even a single equation,” Anderson said of the too-simple books.  So he began to provide his own notes for the mathematical explorations course.

Those notes turned into a 197-page book, “The Physics of Scuba Diving,” just released by Nottingham University Press.  Designed for readers who aren’t necessarily interested in “hard-core” calculus, the book explains the science and math involved in avoiding decompression sickness, the painful and sometimes fatal consequence of ascending too fast from a deep dive.

Decompression sickness — the bends — results when the extra nitrogen a diver’s body has absorbed while the diver breathes compressed air at depth leaves the body too quickly as the diver ascends. The process is described mathematically using the idea of exponential decay, which takes into account changes in pressure at various depths during a dive.

Anderson describes the history, math, and science behind the rows and columns of numbers that make up dive tables, which are designed to help divers plan safe dives. From his first scuba training more than 15 years ago, dive tables provoked his curiosity.  “As a mathematician and educator, I naturally wondered:  where do these numbers come from?  They were obviously based on physics and mathematics somehow,” he writes.  “My personal quest to understand those dive tables has resulted in this book.”

Anderson, a PADI-certified assistant instructor of diving, has dived all over the world.  He recently returned from Tobago, where he encountered manta rays swimming playfully overhead during a couple of dives.

7 Comments

  1. Carole Book says:

    Amazing how mathematics can be used in so many different situations, when I read the title I was unsure of exactly how the two things could be linked! I suppose many people over the years have suffered and even lost their lives diving to the wrong depths and for too long a time so the mathematics of diving is obviously very important. An interesting post thank you.

  2. Joe Lingo says:

    Now that’s a funky combination – mathematics and scuba diving. Although, I’ll have to admit, pretty cool.

  3. Rachel says:

    It is a mathematical world we live in. I love the idea of explaining, in non-geek-speak, the application of mathematics to the real world. I had a math teacher in high school who had a real talent for teaching in a way showed mathematics as practical and useful. Math and scuba diving sounds fascinating!

  4. Max Salmen says:

    Marlowe Congrats! I was in that first class in 2001 and loved it, it fueld the spark I already had for SCUBA and I went on to become an Instructor myself. I was way ahead of all the other Instructors I was certified with due to the exceptional info I got from this course. I still have all my notes and I refer to them often. Can’t wait to get Marlowe’s autograph! Congrats!

  5. Beautiful cover. As a fellow scuba instructor and a bit of a math nerd I’d be very interested in having a look at the book. Is it available online anywhere? I live very remotely in the Philippines, and have a great difficulty getting hold of specialist books like this one.

  6. Marlowe Congratulations! great post

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