A simulator for space fitness

Young researchers study driving skills and space medicine

John Glenn's return to orbit as a space shuttle crew member sparked national debate about age and space travel. At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, it gave new dimension to the remarkable research projects of a trio of undergraduate honors students.

The three poised young women major in biology and aspire to medical school. Megan Clark is a youth symphony percussionist and emergency room volunteer. She fences, dances hula and participates in church activities, but spends most of her spare time these days as a medical research assistant in the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine's Geriatric Medicine Program. Her honors thesis explores individual differences in human neuromotor information processing. Kristi Arakaki manages a double major in biology and accounting and student jobs assisting faculty in both the medical and business schools. A runner, diver and hula dancer, she has presented her honors thesis research on age differences in emergency crash avoidance to the Hawaii Pacific Gerontological Society. Tomomi Billings, a native of Kobe, Japan, enjoys golf, speaks three languages and is investigating life span changes in the speed of behavior and movement control for her honors thesis.

All three students claim Associate Professor Max Vercruyssen as their mentor. Vercruyssen is interested in the development and decline of nervous system function across the life span. After age 70, he says, virtually all seniors lose their ability to judge the amount of time needed to clear an intersection to avoid a collision with an oncoming car. The various factors that affect driving ability differ greatly for teenagers and the elderly. Someone suffering from Parkinson's Disease may have sound vision and judgment but impaired motor control. Someone with early Alzheimer's may be a good driver but become confused about the destination. Such considerations determine what accommodations (adaptive technologie

Contact: Max Vercruyssen
University of Hawaii

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