Christian J. Lambertsen, a scientist and doctor who invented an underwater breathing system used by the military in World War II and later coined the “scuba” acronym by which such systems are widely known, has died at 93.
The Associated Press reported today that he died Feb. 11 at his home in Newtown Square.
Lambertsen began working on his breathing apparatus, using parts of anesthesia machines, even before he enrolled as a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, according to medical school dean Arthur Rubenstein, who called him “one of our institution’s most honored professors.”
Lambertsen’s background as a doctor, inventor and diver enabled him to pioneer development of the scuba, a “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.” “Scuba” became one of many World War II coinages to enter the language as a word in its right.
In 1941, Lambertsen worked with the Army’s Office of Strategic Services, making the the first exit from and re-entry into a submerged submarine, marking the beginning of modern underwater demolition teams.
Back at the University of Pennsylvania, he established the Institute for Environmental Medicine. In 1992, supposedly retired, he patented inergen, a fire-suppression product now used in commercial buildings, developed initially to extinguish fires in submarines and spacecraft.