Welcome to the Ivy League

In: Antarctica, North America

‘Welcome to the Ivy League!’

It was actually my hotel that welcomed me, but still, visiting an Ivy League university is pretty cool. My 2nd training was at the University of Pennsylvania in Chicago. After catching up with old friends in NYC, I was welcomed by Dr. Mathias Basner and his research team.

What happens to the brain when you get locked up in a confined space with a small group for a full year? Let’s close the oxigen tank a bit and turn off the lights for a while, what happens?

Antarctica can be quite extreme, isolation with no evacuation options for 9 months, 30% less oxygen compared to sea level and no sun for up to 4 months. With the Neuroscience study I will use structural and functional neuroimaging (MRI-scans) pre- and post isolation to see if there are changes in both the stucture and function of the brain. This research is a collaboration with the American Space Agency (NASA), we will assess cognitive performance with a test cognition test battery, our control group is the astronaut team in the International Space Station (ISS)!

To investigate changes in sleep duration, sleep-wake rhythms and light exposure we will continuously wear wrist actigraphy watches during the period of confinement and isolation.
Besides the time the watches will show us how active we are, at which time, and where… Big Brother is watching us!

Every month we will have 24-h ECG measurements to investigate physiologic changes in heart rate, heart rate variability, and sleep structure. The final part of the research is about the changes in motor skills and the effects of over the months of isolation on mood, depressive symptoms, stress, and conflicts among crewmembers. Enough options to ‘cool down’ in Antarctica, so I guess the latter should be fine..

Head researchers I met:

Mathias Basner (PENN) & Bernd Johannes (DLR)

Official research title:

Neurostructural, Cognitive, and Physiologic Changes During a 1-year Antarctic Winter-Over Mission.

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