The All-Transparent Bathysphere

main_bathysphereAfter Bruce Beasley installed the monumental transparent sculpture Apolymon at the California state capitol in 1970, he was approached by a group of oceanographic engineers who asked if he could cast an all-transparent bathysphere. Bathyspheres-hollow globes from within which scientists can see and explore the ocean floor-traditionally had been made of steel with small glass or quartz windows. However, when the windows were large enough for the scientists to see sufficiently at great depths, the glass penetrating the steel sphere weakened it. The ideal solution was to make the entire sphere transparent so that it was one large window. The oceanographic engineers wanted Beasley to make an all-transparent bathysphere using the process he had invented to cast acrylic sculpture. Beasley, a scuba diver since his teens, accepted the challenge to take man’s eyes to the bottom of the sea.

After some difficulty, he succeeded in adapting the sculpture-casting technique to make the first cast transparent bathyspheres. These bathyspheres are now the manned compartments for the Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles operated by Harbor Branch Foundation, one of the world’s leading oceanographic institutions. They can be used at a depth of three thousand feet, and in more than eight hundred dives they have made possible the discovery of hundreds of species of sea life. The bathyspheres have been used extensively for underwater photography, including for the award-winning BBC documentary series The Blue Planet and the Imax film Galapagos 3-D. Using Beasley’s invention, scientists have discovered many compounds derived from marine organisms, such as a potent anti-tumor agent that is currently on the way to obtaining FDA approval.

When the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, the Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles with Beasley’s cast-acrylic spheres were the only undersea vehicles with the capacity to search the miles of seabed needed to locate the wreckage. For his contribution to the recovery of the wreckage of the Challenger, Beasley received a commendation from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.