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UCL Press Invite: Life at the Limits

Publication date: May 30, 2006 9:33:50 AM

How do humans survive at and beyond the limits of physical endurance? Extreme experts will explore the edges of survival at a conference, ‘Knowledge 2: Lessons learnt from life at the limits’, hosted by UCL (University College London) on Tuesday 6 June 2006. Conference speakers will discuss the effects of space travel, mountaineering, diving and arctic conditions on the human mind and body.

UCL Conference: Lessons learnt from life at the limits
Date: Tuesday 6 June 2006
Venue: Institute of Electrical Engineers, Savoy Place, London

Professor Jim Kass, of the European Space Agency (ESA), will talk about the stress of long-term space exploration in his lecture, ‘In Space Everybody Can Hear you Scream’. He will discuss how astronauts have to learn to live and work together for long periods with no break or escape from the rest of the group. Ground psychologists listen in on most of their conversations to monitor the group dynamics and their psychological well-being - even a confidential call to mission control will probably have a few listeners.

Polar explorer Dr Mike Stroud, of the University of Southampton, will consider the thermal challenges of expeditions to the Earth’s poles and deserts. Drawing upon his experiences of endurance running in the Sahara desert and walking to the North and South poles without the help of men, animals or machines, Dr Stroud will explain how the human body adapts to extreme heat and cold, and how humans have evolved with the ability to function at extreme temperatures.

Professor Stan Newman, Director of the UCL Centre for Behavioural and Social Sciences in Medicine, will discuss the effects of extreme environments on the human brain. Mountaineers can experience subtle changes in their cognitive abilities as they reach higher altitudes, while altitude sickness, brain swelling and low oxygen conditions can diminish brain function to the point where sufferers may be unaware of or incapable of extricating themselves from a life-threatening situation. Diving brings similar dangers, starting with mild cognitive changes. An important question in both climbing and diving is whether the changes are permanent and what cognitive functions are particularly at risk.

At the conference UCL researchers will also announce the list of experiments they plan to run on their 2007 Xtreme Everest Expedition, where the team aims to take the first ever measurements of oxygen in human blood at the top of the mountain.

The expedition will also test a prototype closed-circuit breathing system which has only once previously - and unsuccessfully - been used by climbers attempting the summit. The equipment, adapted from firefighters' apparatus, is being redesigned to cope with the icy conditions.

Notes for Editors:

1. Journalists who wish to attend the conference or find out more should contact Jenny Gimpel at the UCL Media Relations Office on +44 (0)20 7679 9739, Mobile +44 (0)7990 675 947, Out of Hours: +44 (0)7917 271364 or e-mail j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk. Electronic copies of the programme are available from this office.

2. More information about the Xtreme Everest expedition can be found at http://www.xtreme-everest.co.uk/