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November 21, 2010

Subsequent to my midterm presentation (here at Rest of You), I spent some time researching not just respiration, but the many ways in which we interact with air and gasses in general.  Here are the slides from my presentation:

And now WordPress just deleted the rest of my work here.  Argh.  Let me begin again:

I began my study by looking at the human respiration system, and the way in which it is controlled by the brain. Then I looked at sleep apnea, both central, which is essentially a failure of the autonomic nervous system, and obstructive, which is as its name implies, an obstruction of the airway by surrounding tissue. I was interested to learn that hypopnea episodes are effectively just as dangerous as apnea because the lungs are not moving enough to exchange stale air for fresh.

I then spent some time looking at patents for CPAP devices (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). The one on the right is the least intrusive I have found. They work by flooding the airway with, yes, positive pressure, inflating it like a balloon, and keeping the obstructive tissue at bay. I went on to look at other devices that have been developed over the years to deal with pulmonary diseases: the iron lung, and then an interesting device developed as a teaching aid (you can read about this here:

After spending some time on this, I decided to cast my net a bit wider and look at other ideas related not just to breathing but air and gas in general. I realized as I was reading about human breath that I didn’t have any idea how animals without lungs breathe, or how plants transfer CO2 in and out of their leaves.

I looked at a number of man-made devices that utilize air or gasses for all kinds of purposes, beginning with musical instruments. The digeridoo is notable as its practice has recently been cited as a means of reducing apnea episodes ( I was fascinated as well to learn that logic gates have been developed for use in pneumatic systems, and that an entire logic circuit can be built up without any electricity at all. In hindsight this makes sense: I had just never considered this. This is doubly strange though as I have been interested in the use of alternative force transfer systems for a long time. I had just not given much thought to more complicated programmatic inputs than off-on. I moved on to a review of some of these systems–specifically the work of the artist Chico MacMurtrie, the mechanism of the player piano, and pneumatic tube systems with some interesting and technologically difficult variants such as that employed in the Atmospheric Railway.

I concluded with a number of inflatable devices used for flight, such as cluster balloons and airships. The image of the gas bags within the framework of the Hindenburg is analogous to lungs within a rib cage. The number of systems required to control the changing behavior of the gasses at different elevations and different temperatures is evident in the complexity of the Hindenburg’s gas panel, and to bring it full circle, thinking about coping with all of the changing variables with so much subtlty makes one admire the natural respiration systems all the more.


Slide 2: Human Respiration

Slide 3: Autonomic Nervous System

Slide 4: Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Slide 5: CPAP
US Patent US20080264422
US Patent US20100147302

Slide 6: Iron Lung

Slide 7: Mechanical Lung Model

Slide 8: Insect Respiration

Slide 9: Plant Respiration

Slide 10: Bagpipes and the Digeridoo

Slides 11-12: Air Logic

Slides 13-14: Chico MacMurtrie

Slide 15: Player Piano

Slides 16-19: Pneumatic Systems

Slide 20: Atmospheric Railway

Slides 21-23: Cluster Balloons
Author’s photographs of John Ninomiya’s 10/9/10 Cluster Balloon Flight

Slides 24-25: Airships and Hindenburg Details

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