Kinesiology Students Conduct Research for NASA
The three kinesiology students are completing a senior capstone project that evolved from a field trip in their tissue biomechanics class to the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the spring of 2007. A highlight of the trip came with a visit to laboratory where Hoffman’s stepfather trains astronauts on the exercise equipment currently in use onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The students were able to get hands-on experience with this equipment, providing a better understanding of the unique challenges faced by exercising astronauts.
Conversations with scientists in NASA’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory about the limitations of exercise on the ISS led to the development of a project to investigate the consequences of running on a treadmill that is dramatically smaller than traditional treadmills. When the students returned this fall, they immediately began planning and implementing the study under the guidance of Scott McLean; an associate professor of kinesiology at Southwestern. The use of treadmills is important for exercise on the space station because it offers a mode of exercise that has a positive effect on maintaining bone mass. On an eventual one-way trip to Mars, astronauts could be in space for nine months or more. “Over that time period, an astronaut could lose as much as a quarter of his or her bone mass, which is equivalent to the bone loss accrued during an entire lifetime” McLean says. Currently, astronauts on the space station work out for up to two hours a day on a free-standing treadmill called the TVIS (Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System). Because of limited space in the space station, the TVIS is dramatically shorter and narrower than standard treadmills, forcing the astronauts to take shorter strides and with little margin of error for side-to-side deviations. The study is being conducted in Southwestern’s Human Performance Laboratory. In addition to testing on a standard treadmill, the students have manipulated the useable area of a standard treadmill with attachments that mimic the current TVIS dimensions and a treadmill of intermediate dimensions. Over the next month, the students will use data collected from trained distance runners to examine differences in impact forces, leg muscle electrical activity and oxygen consumption while running on each of the treadmill designs. McLean says the study is a great opportunity for the senior kinesiology students to get real-life research experience. “In keeping with the philosophy of the capstone experience, this project has been a substantial undertaking for the students that will provide them with an experience that draws upon all of their preparation at Southwestern,” McLean says. The students will submit a report to the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at NASA Johnson Space Center and will subsequently present their findings at the Texas Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in spring 2008.