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.