It’s often said that people mellow with age. The exact opposite is true of R.W. “Billy Bob” Hamilton Jr. Billy Bob productively used every waking minute of every day. To us he was husband, father, grandfather, brother, brother-in-law, uncle, partner, mentor and friend. To some of you he was the person who encouraged you to be a part of the church and community. To others he was the one who pushed you to be a better person, to challenge yourself to learn something new every day and, of course, to do it all with correct grammar. He was always the life of the party. It’s best said that Billy Bob was “larger than life.”
Here is most of his 2009 resume since we found it nearly impossible to edit. His most recent project was providing tables to the MTA for the Long Island Railroad connection tunnel to Grand Central Station. And, by the way, know any other 81-year-olds who are still updating their resumes?
R. W. Bill Hamilton, Ph.D.
Dr. Bill Hamilton is a physiologist with over four decades of specialization in diving, aerospace, and environmental physiology, with particular interest in decompression, breathing gases, and the effects of pressure. Ten of these years (1964-1974) were as a scientist and director of a leading environmental physiology and diving research laboratory.
Since 1976 Dr. Hamilton has been principal of his consulting firm, Hamilton Research, Ltd. His work here has included the development and assessment of decompression and operating procedures for commercial, scientific, recreational, and military diving, for tunnel and caisson work, and for aerospace and hyperbaric medicine, both in the U.S. and internationally. He has also done safety and operational planning, technical training programs, market surveys, and successful collaboration with attorneys as consultant and expert witness. He has served as consultant to the Swedish Defense Research Agency (“FOI”, formerly “FOA”), the German GKSS laboratory, the Japanese MSDF (Navy), the Norwegian Underwater Institute, and others, in decompression, diving safety, and operational planning. He has been consultant and advisor to NOAA’s Aquarius sea-floor habitat project, and he has produced decompression tables for use with and for evacuating the habitat. He prepared trimix (O2-He-N2) tables for NOAA’s research on the USS Monitor, and this led to his production of a set of trimix tables for the NOAA Diving Program.
Experience in research and operations
In 1964 Dr. Hamilton joined Union Carbide Corp,, in the laboratory serving as the research arm of Ocean Systems, Inc. He was both physiologist and subject in early laboratory “dives,” which led in 1965 to the first manned saturation exposure to the continental shelf pressure of 200 msw (metres of sea water), or 21 atmospheres. He pioneered the study of neon as a component of breathing gases, studying human performance and decompression aspects of this gas to pressures as great as 400 msw. He advocates use of neon as the ideal inert gas for long-duration space flight. He collaborated in neon’s use offshore in an unprecedented series of deep commercial dives, and in exploring its value when used with closed-circuit breathing systems. The hyperbaric chamber fire safety program with colleagues in his lab produced the fundamental data universally applied by both the diving and hyperbaric medical communities, and which have been used as guidelines by NFPA (the National Fire Protection Association) and other standards organizations. His concept of the “zone of no combustion” led to the development of safe atmospheres and breathing gases for underwater habitat welding, and he worked offshore to help implement this idea. He led Ocean Systems’ Access laboratory program, which involved rapid compressions to the pressure of 300 msw (1000 feet of sea water) using nitrogen to mitigate compression effects (“HPNS”), with excursions from saturation in that pressure range. He worked extensively on a project with Shell in Norway to develop capabilities for operational diving to 450 msw depths. He has been Principal Investigator in two cooperative programs at the Chinese Underwater Technology Institute, Shanghai, on repetitive saturation-excursion diving projects, Chisat I (1988) and Chisat II (1995); the latter was the first extensive study of excursions with O2-He-N2 “trimix” breathing mixtures from a nitrogen-based habitat environment. He has studied the physiology and risks of breathhold diving. He re-discovered the technique of “lung packing” or “buccal pumping” as a means of increasing lung volume.
Dr. Hamilton, sometimes with colleagues, has developed many types of decompression procedures for a wide variety of diving and exposures to pressure, ranging from submarine free ascent to space travel to deep commercial diving, including detailed instructions for treatment of decompression sickness. This work has evolved into a comprehensive computer program DCAP, which has been acquired by the British, Swedish, Japanese, Finnish, Israeli, Italian, and U.S. navies, DCIEM, the German GKSS facility, the Japanese lab JAMSTEC, hyperbaric treatment facilities, and commercial companies. DCAP and related programs have provided decompression tables used by such as NOAA, NASA, Norwegian Underwater Institute, U.S. Navy labs, Karolinska Institute, archaeological research projects, commercial operations, accident analysis, altitude diving projects, ascent to altitude, and other special operations, including developing tables for deep air dives with the Swedish Navy. For NASA Dr. Hamilton developed excursion and decompression procedures for use with a hyperbaric lock on a space station.
His work with decompression tables, physiological effects of gases, and methods of managing exposure to oxygen were instrumental in the origination and development of the new field of “technical diving.” He has helped apply this to the unique decompression and operational problems of deep cave diving, specifically with O2-He-N2 trimix, on several record-setting cave exploration dives with scuba over the depth range of 60 to beyond 250 msw. He has helped in the development and assessment of several diver-carried decompression computers, and with colleague Dave Kenyon is presently completing a new and original dive computer, DCAP-X, that incorporates the DCAP computational program.
Bill Hamilton was a pioneer in the development and later operational application of nitrogen-oxygen (nitrox) saturation-excursion procedures, including those in the NOAA diving manual as well as NOAA’s Repex procedures for repetitive excursion diving, which also include a serendipitous but now widely applicable algorithm for managing long term exposure to oxygen. He has assisted the U.S. Navy in operational application of Repex techniques. He has worked on development of rebreathers, including especially rebreather decompression procedures and integrated computers, safety practices, and instruction materials, and he has carried out training and intensive manned testing. He designed an effective breathing gas heat regenerator for use in a stranded diving bell. He is currently working on the Brightwater West tunneling project for King County, Washington, where he is responsible for decompression tables including those with trimix, and other aspects of physiological safety.
Dr. Hamilton is past Chairman of the Board of Directors of DAN, Divers Alert Network, which provides important diving medical services to recreational divers, and he has served on its Decompression Advisory Board. He helped guide this important organization through a major transition period. He is a charter member of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS, formerly UMS), a former officer, and presently serves on its Board of Directors and several committees. He has served as Editor of UHMS’s newsletter, Pressure, and on the editorial board of its journal. He has served on the safety board of NOAA’s Undersea Research Program; NASA’s Space Station Hyperbaric Chamber committee and an environmental health workshop for the space station and for travel to Mars; the Safety Board of the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber; the Medical Advisory Panel of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution; NAUI’s technical diving committee; the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Technology; and NFPA’s Hypo/Hyperbaric subcommittee. He is a member of a US-Japan Cooperative Program, originally UJNR but now renamed. With colleagues he has prepared safety and training materials for NASA on the weightlessness simulation facilities at both Johnson and Marshall space centers. He served as a consultant to OSHA in preparing national standards for U.S. commercial diving. He was tasked by the U.S. Navy to perform a worldwide survey of air and air-with-oxygen diving. He serves as a reviewer of scientific papers and proposals. One of Dr. Hamilton’s specialties is “workshops.” He has been organizer, chairman, and/or editor of a number of select workshops on specialized topics, and has participated in many others. Those related to decompression cover decompression from deep bounce dives, of tunnel workers, from nitrogen-oxygen saturation dives, and of recreational divers. A workshop on the Validation of Decompression Tables that provides simplified guidelines for bringing new tables into operational readiness may be the most important of these. Other of his workshops include hyperbaric oxygen in emergency medical care, nitrogen narcosis, enriched air diving in both scientific and recreational settings, design and application of dive computers, and operational dive data.
Major Hamilton was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard, serving in Alaska during the Korean War and in combat service in Viet Nam, where he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, and other decorations. As Life Support Officer he helped solve an equipment problem that had caused unsuccessful bailouts. He has been a principal investigator for both USAF and NASA in research on atmospheres for space flight. He was recommended to NASA by the National Academy of Sciences as a Scientist Astronaut. He belongs to both the Aerospace Medical Association, and the Aerospace Physiology Society. He has proposed a radical new idea for protection against very high G- forces in fighter aircraft.
Professional affiliations and recognition
Dr. Hamilton has received three different awards from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, the Stover-Link, Oceaneering, and Craig Hoffman awards, and the Award for Professional Excellence from the Aerospace Industrial Life Sciences Association. He received the first “tekkie” award sponsored by aquaCorps Journal. He was awarded the prestigious NOGI Award for Science of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences, and was the recipient of the 2001 DAN-Rolex Award. He was selected as Diver of the Year for Science at the Beneath the Sea recreational diving conference, and has proudly received his dunking as Diver of the Year by the Boston Sea Rovers. He has recently received the Colin McLeod award from the British Sub-Aqua Club for his contribution to technical diving. He is a past chairman of the Instrumentation Section of the New York Academy of Sciences, and is a Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association. His list of memberships includes also the American Physiological Society, Human Factors Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Marine Technology Society, Society for Underwater Technology, South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society, European Underwater and Baromedical Society, the Association of Diving Contractors International, the Canadian Association of Diving Contractors, the Institute of Diving, the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, and Sigma Xi. He was elected to Phi Kappa Phi honorary fraternity, and Mensa. He is a Fellow of the Explorer’s Club.
In addition to numerous scientific and technical papers, reports, and workshops, Dr. Hamilton authored a major article on Life Support in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and has contributed chapters to the UHMS’s Underwater Handbook, the Physician’s Guide to Diving Medicine, UHMS’s Key Documents series, a chapter on mixed gases in Bove’s Diving Medicine, and with a coauthor did a chapter on decompression practice for the 5th edition of Bennett and Elliott’s Diving Physiology and Medicine. He did a comprehensive chapter on “pressure as a toxic agent” in Patty’s industrial hygiene collection, and chapters in other books. He has prepared operational manuals and training materials; significant ones include chapters in the 2001 NOAA Diving Manual, manuals for diving with oxygen-enriched air for NAUI and the YMCA, procedures for avoiding oxygen toxicity, management of decompression sickness, and diving with special breathing mixtures. For the U.S. Navy he prepared a major report covering their SHAD and Nisat experiments. He has made numerous presentations and taught courses to both technical and lay audiences.
University of Texas, Austin. B.A., Liberal Arts (Plan II)
Texas A&M, College Station. M.S., Animal Breeding
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Ph.D., Physiology and Biophysics
Union Carbide Corp.-Ocean Systems, Inc., Tonawanda NY and Tarrytown NY
Tarrytown Labs, Ltd., Tarrytown, NY
Hamilton Research, Ltd., Tarrytown, NY
Billy Bob was predeceased by wife Beverly, son Beto and daughter Kitty. He is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Kathryn “Ruby Lips,” daughters Lucy and Sally, sisters Emily and Ann, grandsons, Felix, Bobby, Zach, Tyler and Truman and an untold number of adoring fans.
Text copyright Hamilton Research, Ltd.; photo copyright Michael Menduno released under “Creative Commons Attribution – ShareAlike v3.0 License”; select publications by Dr Hamilton