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Scientists work on artificial gravity that does not puke you



  Herd Machine

Torin Clark, a researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder, drives with a centrifuge.


Video screenshot of Amanda Kooser / CNET

Star Trek has it. Star Wars has it. Battlestar Galactica has it. In most science-fiction movies, everyone is wandering in artificial gravity, but despite the nausea that might accompany this kind of technological magic, nobody has to throw up. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder want to make this science-fiction dream a reality.

Bone and muscle atrophy are just two of the problems associated with prolonged absence of gravity. The problem becomes more acute as we look forward to sending astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars.

A volunteer sits in an artificial gravity simulator.


CU Boulder / Torin Clark

One of the most convenient ways to create artificial gravity is to turn people around in a centrifuge. NASA and the European Space Agency have tested this concept on terrestrial volunteers . If that sounds like stomach upset, it's because of that. Travel sickness is a serious problem.

The Colorado team envisioned future astronauts traveling into a space of artificial gravity to spend time on a small turning system to counteract the negative effects of weightlessness. But they do not want astronauts to get sick.

Scientists develop a way to deal with a symptom called the "crossed illusion" that arises when a person is spun around and this person turns his head. The inner ear is essentially freaked out, causing a falling sensation and motion sickness.






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The team turned a group of volunteers on a centrifuge in an upright position, but started incredibly slowly at a speed of only one revolution per minute. Once the person became acclimatised, the researchers were able to increase the revolutions a little until the volunteers turned comfortably at an average of 17 revolutions per minute. This was an impressive achievement.

"The goal of our work is to get more people to believe that artificial gravity may not be that crazy," said PhD student Kathrine Bretl in a CU Boulder publication on Tuesday. "Maybe it has a place outside of science fiction."

The University has published a video showing a research centrifuge in action. It is called a human eccentric rotation device (HERD). The device is compact enough to fit in a small space, unlike the giant, space-station-sized circles invented in science fiction. As far as we can tell, essentially anyone can adapt to this incentive, "said CU Boulder Aerospace Engineer Torin Clark, co-author of a study on the spinning method published in the Journal of Vestibular Research in June.

Volunteers' Ability Getting used to the centrifuge is promising and raises some additional questions, including how much artificial gravity would be needed to counteract the negative effects of life in space.

The study points to a possible future in which It's not all Star Trek, but it might work.


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