Dr. Lambertsen, Medicine

Dr. Christian James Lambertsen, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Environmental Medicine in the School of Medicine, scientist, inventor, and environmentalist died February 11, 2011, at the age of 93.

Teaching at the University of Pennsylvania since the 1946, Dr. Lambertsenís research focused on experimental therapeutics and human physiology. He founded Pennís Institute for Environmental Medicine in 1968, where he conducted pioneering research in undersea and aerospace medicine. He served as director until 1985. Dr. Lambertsen was appointed as an instructor in the department of pharmacology in 1946. After serving a year as a visiting research associate professor at the University College in London, he was promoted to professor of medicine. He had also held an appointment in the School of Veterinary Medicine as a professor from 1976 to 1987.

Dr. Lambertsen is best known for inventing the first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit (LARU), while a medical student at Penn. The LARU was used by the Maritime Unit of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II for underwater stealth operations. After he was awarded his medical degree in 1943, as a U.S. Army Medical Corps Captain, Dr. Lambertsen trained the first OSS operational swimmers and served as their medical officer. For that reason, Dr. Lambertsen is recognized nationally as the father of U.S. combat swimming.

In recognition of these accomplishments related to underwater military operations, Dr. Lambertsen was awarded the Legion of Merit by OSS Chief Major William J. Donovan in 1945. He was awarded the U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret Award; the U.S. Special Operations Command Medal; and the Distinguished Public Service Medal of the U.S. Department of Defense. In 2009, Dr. Lambertsen was honored by the OSS Society with its Distinguished Public Service Award. He was also a recipient of the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching and in 1965, the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Award of Merit. In 2010 he was awarded the John Scott Medal by Philadelphiaís Board of Directors of City Trusts for his invention of the underwater breathing apparatus known as SCUBA, which he first developed during World War II for use by the United States Navy while he was in the U.S. Army Medical Corps detached to the Office of Strategic Services.

In his scientific and academic activities, Dr. Lambertsen developed advanced decompression methods to support military and commercial undersea exploration, aerospace and industrial ventures, and founded the Undersea Medical Society (now Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Society). Methods for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, that he and his scientific team originated remain at the forefront of medicine today. He was a fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a member of the Cosmos Club and was active in numerous scientific organizations.

Dr. Lambertsenís work included medical advisorships with NASA, the Navy, the Air Force, NOAA, the Smithsonian Institution, Air Products & Chemicals and oil exploration ventures. He contributed to manned space flight as chairman of the nationís Committee on Man in Space and as a member of the Presidentís Space Panel. More recently, he invented Inergen, the environmentally-friendly replacement for halon fire-fighting agents and with industry partners implemented its worldwide use to protect Earthís stratospheric ozone layer.

Born in Westfield, New Jersey, Dr. Lambertsen earned a BS from Rutgers University in 1939.

He is survived by four sons, Christian, David, Richard and Bradley (all Penn alums); and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Penn this spring, on a date to be determined.