- Biomedical engineering professor Joseph Dituri is attempting to set a new record of undersea living: 100 days.
- The South Florida researcher’s body will be studied during and after the 100-day period.
- Researchers hope to explore whether living under pressure can increase life spans and prevent certain aging disease.
A Florida professor has been living underwater for the past two weeks and won’t come back to the surface until June if all goes as planned.
Joseph Dituri, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of South Florida, is attempting to shatter a world record for the most days a human has lived underwater. The previous record of 73 days was set in 2014 by two Tennessee professors.
Dituri is attempting to live for 100 days in a special habitat about 25 feet down in an ocean lagoon in Key Largo, Florida.
On the 15th day of his adventure, which began on March 1, Dituri spoke with USA TODAY from his underwater home on a Zoom call, sharing what’s been the most rewarding, the most challenging and the most surprising thing about life in the sea.
The mission: 100 days beneath the sea
Dituri’s main purpose while living underwater is not breaking records but studying how the human body responds to long-term exposure to extreme pressure.
Before he started living in the 100-square-foot habitat, called Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Dituri underwent a battery of psychological and medical tests. While he’s living underwater, and afterward, a medical team will continue running tests on the 55-year-old.
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Among the goals of the project, which cost $250,000 to fund, will be to study the psychological effects of living in an isolated, confined environment for months, and to explore whether living under pressure can increase life spans and prevent certain aging diseases, according to a news release about the project.
“We haven’t done this level of research on people while they were underwater,” Dituri told reporters last week. “No humans ever stayed past 73 days. We’re going to go all the way to 100.”
Underwater life’s challenges and joys
When Dituri spoke to USA TODAY this week about the project, he was 15% into his 100 days below water.
The toughest part is missing his three grown daughters, mother and girlfriend, though he can still text and Zoom with them, he said.
Being away from loved ones was something Dituri got used to when he was frequently deployed overseas while serving in the Navy for 28 years. Getting used to it didn’t make it any easier, for him or them.
“My daughter’s in Caltech, graduates with a degree in physics in May. I’ll miss that,” Dituri said. “We had to fit it in between hurricane season and the holidays, and I’m like, ‘Baby, something had to fall.’ And she’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it. I know you’ll be there in spirit.’ And I’m like, ‘Damn.'”
Dituri’s favorite moment came when a bunch of kids were trying to hold their breath and make it down to a porthole in Dituri’s habitat to wave hello. (He frequently sees scuba divers and other visitors curious to get a look at his life undersea.)
“There were a bunch of kids trying to hold their breath and come down but this one little girl would not give up,” he said. “I would see the little girl swim down, try and hold her breath, try and hold her breath, and she tried like, 15 times. I was like, ‘C’mon, c’mon!'”
The girl finally made it to his porthole and Dituri snapped a selfie with her, sent it to his mission director, who then made sure to get it to the girl.
“This little kid was like, ‘Hey, I got to do something that there was no way that I thought that I could, but I made it happen,'” he said. “This mission could end tomorrow and I’d be good.”
Bad sleep, a stiff back and lots of bathroom trips
Dituri recently gave a virtual tour of his habitat, showing reporters the bunk bed where he sleeps, the bathroom area that includes a toilet and a fresh-water shower, and his kitchen and workspace.
The most important item on board might be Dituri’s coffeemaker, he joked. He also has a microwave but can’t do cooking beyond that because of the pressurized conditions.
Luckily, visitors can bring him fresh food.
Just recently he dined on frozen salmon patties that he heated up in the microwave and flavored with lemon pepper, salt and oregano.
He’s documenting some of his day-to-day life on Instagram, sharing things like a video showing how bananas crush at depth.
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Physically, Dituri is having difficulty sleeping well in the habitat though isn’t sure why. He also has a sore back because his living quarters are two inches shorter than his height of 6 feet, 2 inches – meaning he’s hunching all day.
Dituri also realized pretty quickly that living underwater means more trips to the bathroom. It was so noticeable that everyone visiting the habitat has to give urine samples so researchers can compare amounts, he said.
Outside of that, Dituri is feeling fine and staying in shape by doing 100 pushups and situps a day, in addition to yoga.
It’s all well worth it for the professor, who is passionate about biohacking and plans to live to be 110 years old. Some studies have shown that living in hyperbaric conditions can slow the aging process.
“So, we suspect I am going to come out superhuman,” Dituri joked. “Who knows how cool I’m going to be.”