Richard D. Vann, PhD, Receives the John Ernsting Award

Richard D. Vann, PhD, was the 2014 recipient of the Aerospace Medical Association’s John Ernsting Award during Honor Night Ceremonies, May 15, 2014 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, San Diego, CA.

He received the award for his extensive research in support of safer pressure exposures for diving, mountaineering, and microgravity. He has worked to define and solve safety problems on behalf of the U.S. Navy, Divers Alert Network, and NASA. As a prolific author and educator, Dr. Vann contributed measurably to the improvement of safety and efficiency of the U.S. Navy, commercial, and sport diving activities and NASA extravehicular activity (EVA) procedures. His first author refereed papers in Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine included discussion of theoretical methods for selecting spacecraft and spacesuit atmospheres, of severity and resolution of decompression sickness, of strategies to mitigate and manage decompression sickness with diving, flying after diving and microgravity exposure, and of decompression study design. He recognized the beneficial and detrimental effects of physical activity on decompression risk and helped to develop and show the effectiveness of exercising during oxygen breathing prior to decompression to spacesuit pressure to accelerate nitrogen elimination, reducing the risk of decompression sickness. He has also given generously of his time to mentor and support the efforts of developing professionals.

Dr. Vann earned a BA in 1964 and then a BS in 1965 at Columbia University. He then attended Duke University, where he graduated with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering in 1976. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1971 and in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1972-1997. During his career in the military, he served in a variety of positions, including 1st Division Office on the USS Annapolis (AGMR-1), Class Leader of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Class 51, Platoon Commander and Diving Department Head of Underwater Demolition Team 12, Commanding Officer of NR Research Command 6-6, Diving Officer of the NR UDT/SEAL 106 and then the NR Naval Special Warfare Task Group Bravo 206, Commanding Officer of NR Underwater Emergency Response Team 107 and then NR SEAL Team Four, Chief of Staff of NR Naval Special Warfare Group Two Det 106, and Commanding Officer of both NR Naval Special Warfare Group Two Det 106 and then NR Special Operations Command Atlantic 606. He retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1997.

From 1965-1966, Dr. Vann was a Diving Engineer at Ocean Systems, Inc. He became a Research Assistant at F.G. Hall Environmental Research Laboratory, Duke Medical Center, in 1971 after he left active duty in the Navy. From 1976-2010, he was Assistant Professor in the Anesthesia Department of Duke Medical Center, where he still serves as Engineering Safety Officer in the F.G. Hall Laboratory since 1981 and as Chairman of the Operations and Safety Committee in the F.G. Hall Hyperbaric Center since 1985. In 1990, he accepted positions as Director of Applied Research at F.G. Hall Hypo/Hyperbaric Center and Vice President for Research at the Divers Alert Network (DAN), which he held until 2010. In 1999, he established the DAN Research Summer Internship. In 2010, he became Assistant Professor Emeritus, Anesthesia Department, Duke Medical Center.

Dr. Vann has been honored by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society with the Oceaneering International, Inc. Award for outstanding scientific contributions to the advancement of commercial diving activities. He also holds a U.S. Navy Commendation Medal, the Life Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Branch 2003 Research and Development Award, the 2003 Craig Hoffman Memorial Award for contributions to diving safety from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, the 2007 Diver of the Year for Science from Beneath the Sea, the 2010 DAN Asia-Pacific Contribution to Dive Safety Award, and, in 2012, he was honored with the STS134/VLF6 In-Suit Light Exercise Team NASA JSC Group Achievement Award and the Behnke Award from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. He is a member of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, where he has served in a variety of positions, the Institute of Diving, the UDT/SEAL Association, and the Aerospace Medical Association, where he was an Associate Editor for Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine from 2003-2005, and has been a member of a number of other groups.

Reposted with permission from the Aerospace Medical Association.
Article & Photos by Pamela C. Day

Established by Environmental Tectonics Corporation in memory of John Ernsting, senior British military commander, renowned researcher, and professor of Aviation Medicine. It is given annually for outstanding research in altitude physiology, and/or longstanding exceptional performance in the education, development, and administration of Aerospace Medicine and related specialties.

About the Aerospace Medical Association
The Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) is the largest, most-representative professional organization in the fields of aviation, space, and environmental medicine. The Aerospace Medical Association is an umbrella group providing a forum for many different disciplines to come together and share their expertise. The Association has provided its expertise to a multitude of Federal and international agencies on a broad range of issues including aviation and space medical standards, the aging pilot, and physiological stresses of flight. AsMA’s membership includes aerospace medicine specialists, flight nurses, physiologists, psychologists, human factors specialists, and researchers in this field. Most are with industry, civil aviation regulatory
agencies, departments of defense and military services, the airlines, space programs, and universities. Approximately 25% of the membership is international. Through the efforts of the AsMA members, safety in flight and man’s overall adaptation to adverse environments have been more nearly achieved. For further information, please visit

Chris KeithRichard D. Vann, PhD, Receives the John Ernsting Award