Jacques Ernest-Jean Piccard

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Jacques Ernest-Jean Piccard


Swiss Oceanic Engineer and Physicist

Jacques Piccard, born on July 28,1922, is an oceanic engineer and physicist who assisted his father, Auguste Piccard, in building the bathyscaph for deep-sea exploration. This submarine-like vessel allowed scientists to explore the deepest depths of the ocean and has provided information on ocean temperature, animal life, and useful geophysical information.

Jacques, at an early age, was introduced to both air and sea by both his father and uncle. Auguste and Jean-Felix Piccard were intensely interested in science and became fascinated with lighter-than-air balloons. In 1931, Auguste gained worldwide attention by making the first balloon ascent into the stratosphere at over 51,000 feet (15,545 m) to study cosmic rays from distant stars. He flew in a spherical gondola that could carry two people above 40,000 feet (12,192 m) without the need for pressurized suits.

Jacques spent most of his early childhood participating in the adventures and explorations of his family. In 1943, he studied physics at the University of Geneva, taking a year off in 1944-45 to serve in the French army. On completion of his studies, he taught at the University of Geneva for two years. During this time, his father became interested in undersea exploration and the design of a submersible capsule. They worked together designing the bathyscaphs, a deep-sea submarine vessel engineered to operate at great depths.

The first vessel, the FNRS 2, was designed and built in 1947, and was capable of submerging to 13,125 feet (4,000 m) and operated under water pressure of 0.42 metric ton/sq.cm. This first bathyscaph contained two main components: a steel cabin, heavier than water and resistant to sea pressure, to accommodate the observers and a light container called a float, filled with gasoline, which being lighter than water, provided the lifting power. On the surface, one or more of the ballast tanks were filled with air to keep the bathyscaph afloat. When the ballast tanks valves were opened, air escaped and was replaced by water, and as the vessel became increasingly heavy, it descended. The gasoline was in direct contact with the seawater and was compressed at a rate nearly identical with the depth of the water. The bathyscaph gradually lost buoyancy as it descended. To slow down or to begin the ascent, iron shot stored as ballast was released, which was held in place by electromagnets.

A second vessel, the Trieste, was reconfigured to withstand the demands of deeper descents. After several successful dives the United States Navy acquired the bathyscaph. The Navy equipped the craft with a new cabin designed to enable it to reach the seabed of the great oceanic trenches. These Grand Canyon-like trenches were little understood, and no one had ever ventured to the sea bottom of these underwater canyons.

Captained by Jacques and U.S. Navy officer John Walsh, they set a world record on January 23, 1960. The submarine-like craft descended 35,810 feet (10,915 m) to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean southwest of Guam in the South Pacific Ocean. Jacques described this expedition in great detail for National Geographic Magazine in 1960. The expedition was successful and yielded previously unknown information about deep sea trenches as well as abundant data on how the bathyscaph handled at great depth.

The Trieste completed nearly 64 missions before being retired in the late 1960s. In 1963, Jacques and his father designed and built a mesoscaphe, capable of carrying 40 people for underwater observation.


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Jacques Ernest-Jean Piccard

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