Rachel Lance, PhD Expert Witness
Curriculum Vitae

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Specialties & Experience of this Expert Witness

General Specialties:

Biomechanics and Blasting and Explosives

Keywords/Search Terms:

injury biomechanics, blast trauma, explosives, undersea medicine, hyperbaric physiology, ballistic trauma, extreme environments, trauma, diving, scuba, submersible, submarine, outer space, hypoxia, breathing system design, traumatic brain injury, TBI, military history, medical history, underwater


BS, Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan; MS, Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan; PhD, Biomedical Engineering, Duke University

Years in Practice:


Additional Information

My specialties lie in the unique challenges and physiology of injurious environments, especially underwater, certain aspects of outer space, and from exposure to physically traumatic events such as explosions. I began my career working as a civilian mechanical engineer for the US Navy, where I specialized in the design, function testing, and safety testing of underwater equipment and breathing systems intended for use by military personnel, and I was both the project engineer and project manager for the first approval effort for a new military underwater breathing system to be successful since the 1970s. Concurrent with part of my employment with the navy, I earned a doctorate degree in biomedical engineering from Duke University, specializing in injury biomechanics, which is the application of the principles of engineering to determine the injury mechanisms and safe limits during events when human beings are at risk of injury or death. My goal for my career is safety and prevention. My doctoral work included the compilation of hundreds of medical case reports following blasts, and the computational modeling of those blasts, to develop the first set of data-based risk curves to assess the risk of injury to a person underwater from an explosion. To build upon that work, I performed a comprehensive analysis of the problems of survival inside the Civil War miniature submarine HL Hunley to try to solve the 150-year-old mystery of the deaths of the crew. I ultimately used a combination of live charge experiments and advanced physics to conclude that the crew died from blast transmission through the hull of their vessel, but I also analyzed the risks from ocean factors, breathing gas supply, and ballistic trauma to the hull to eliminate all reasonable theories. My other research uses similar approaches based in engineering, statistics, physics, and data collection to examine the unique facets of physiology in extreme environments—as well as the risks—and one common challenge of these varied environments is often the need to maintain normal respiratory and neurological functions while under abnormal conditions. In recent years I have also worked on communicating the technical knowledge of scientific research to more general populations, and as part of that work, I have completed two mainstream non-fiction books about science as it related to key moments in history. Both books were written through contracts with a subdivision of Penguin Random House, and the first was published April 2020 while the second is completed and will be published April 2024. I write freelance scientific “explainer” pieces following major events relevant to my expertise, such as the 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut, and these pieces have been published in outlets such as Time, Smithsonian, and Wired. In line with that same goal of science communication, I also volunteer my time as an instructor with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to teach post-blast safety to first responders, especially with respect to expected patterns and risks of bodily trauma and neurotrauma. My areas of experience include but are not limited to: • Respiratory physiology and function in extreme environments • Survival with limited breathing gas supply • Submarine sinkings and accidents • Underwater breathing systems • Underwater physiology • Hypoxia • Hyperoxia/Oxygen toxicity • Hypercapnia/Hypercarbia • Decompression sickness • Measurement of physiological parameters • Human subject research • Engineering design for extreme environments • Design of bioinstrumentation for use in extreme environments • Physiology of blast trauma • Assessment of trauma patterns following injurious events • Skeletal biomechanics • Assessment of traumatic brain injury (TBI) following blast or blunt force events • Behind-armor blunt force trauma (BABT) from ballistic projectiles • Blast physics • Science communication • Science history