DAN DISPATCH: DAN Summer Research Internship


More than 100 interns over 20 years have participated in DAN’s internship programs, working with established mentors in research, risk mitigation or medicine to gain knowledge and valuable professional experience while contributing to DAN operations. This year five interns traveled to Durham, North Carolina, to participate in the program.

Two of the interns were Ben Kistler and Gabe Graf, who spent the summer working with the research department under DAN Research Director Frauke Tillmans, Ph.D. Kistler had just finished his junior year of college at Indiana University at Bloomington, pursuing a degree in human biology. He had started diving a year before and holds an advanced open-water certification. Graf, a biochemistry major, is a rising sophomore at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and an advanced open-water diver who began diving at age 10.

They assisted with DAN’s ongoing studies and ran their own project evaluating diving, neurocognitive function and hydration status. Their study specifically considered the physical exertion and mental focus of lionfish hunters and lobster harvesters. Another area of focus was DAN’s ultrasound comparison study that tests the efficacy of different ultrasound devices for measuring venous gas emboli bubbles in the bloodstream.

Weekly career development workshops and research seminars helped prepare the interns to become effective researchers and understand the current science around hyperbaric medicine, dive medicine and physiology. Speakers joined from around the world, and local researchers from Duke University and the University of North at Carolina Chapel Hill offered training sessions.

A wide range of diving and equipment technician courses such as nitrox, rescue diver, cylinder inspector, and valve and regulator repair were also part of the experience. 

The interns devoted many weekends to data collection in the field. Divers at Fantasy Lake and Mystery Lake in North Carolina volunteered for cardiac ultrasounds and neurocognitive battery tests. The interns also traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida, to join lobster harvest charters for the day and perform neurocognitive tests, measure electrodermal activity and collect data on subjective fatigue levels. On a trip to Winchester, Virginia, they met with the local public safety dive team and gathered information on cardiac rhythms.

While collecting data from divers is a useful experience, it was also eye-opening for them to be on the other side of the relationship by serving as test subjects, participating in studies conducted by the Duke Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology. Kistler and Graf had Doppler ultrasounds of their hearts to help automate the detection of venous gas emboli, and Kistler participated in a study to evaluate if a ketogenic diet provides protection against central nervous system oxygen toxicity.

Despite their busy schedule, the interns also did plenty of local diving and made trips to nearby dive destinations. They formed personal relationships over the summer and made professional connections through their research and studies that will be valuable for years to come.

At the conclusion of their time at DAN, Kistler, Graf and DAN Risk Mitigation intern Christine Tamburri presented their summer activities and findings at a DAN Public Lecture Series event. Divers from around the Raleigh–Durham area came to DAN headquarters to watch them present their work.

For anyone considering a career in dive research or medicine, the DAN internship program provides an excellent opportunity to enhance your technical knowledge and in-demand professional skills while contributing to creating a safer and more enjoyable dive experience for all divers.

Learn more about the DAN internship program at https://dan.org/research-reports/get-involved/internships.

© . — Q3/Q4 2021