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Iowa Space Grant Base Program

About the Iowa Space Grant Base Program

The mission of the Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) is to promote opportunities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines in pursuits aligned with NASA’s mission, through stimulating research, education, and outreach programs for all Iowans.

With support from NASA’s National Space Grant and Fellowship Program the ISGC base program provides funding to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and Drake University to involve STEM students in hands-on interdisciplinary research projects in areas of interest to NASA.

The University of Iowa received funding from ISGC for its first base program “Understanding gravity sensing defects through targeted ear manipulations” in 2012. Due to its success, this project was graduated and received a second, competitively awarded 3 year grant to continue mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in STEM disciplines through research-based instruction.

Current Project: Countermeasures to regain gravity sensing after ear manipulations (2015-2018)

The ultimate aim of this training program is to help astronauts regain motor function more rapidly upon return to Earth and also help the elderly, who suffer age-related hair cell loss in the inner ear, improve their balance. This project will involve cooperation of students across two different departments (Biology and Engineering) of two different colleges (CoE, CLAS) at the University of Iowa.

Gravity is a constant feature of life on earth. Gravity perception is altered during exposure to microgravity in spaceflight. In microgravity, all linear acceleration is associated with angular acceleration as all linear acceleration results from centrifugal forces acting upon the ear’s otoconia when heads or bodies move in space. Upon return to Earth and gravity, the brain interprets gravity as being related to angular acceleration, affecting balance and gaze stabilization for several days.

We have developed a new frog model system that, through various ear transplantations or genetic/pharmacological manipulations, uncouples linear and angular acceleration analogous to astronauts return to Earth, and also mimics the age-related hair cell loss in the elderly. Our various manipulations will produce asymmetrical movement/gravitational input to the animal.

We have developed a system for systematically monitoring the effect of asymmetrical input on motor output through analysis of the swimming behavior of tadpoles. We then will employ a training program using a ‘frog elevator’, in analogy with parabolic flight, or using the ultracentrifuge at NASA Ames, to determine whether alternation of gravitational sensation or increased gravitational input respectively can serve as a training module to regain symmetrical motor output.

Previous Project: Understanding Gravity Sensing Defects through Targeted Ear Manipulations (2012-2015)

Last modified on July 5th, 2016
Posted on September 25th, 2012