IKON Institute of Aerospace Medicine
The IKON Institute of Aerospace Medicine deals in an interdisciplinary manner with the influence of environmental conditions on human health and performance – in space, in aviation and on earth. Aspects of human physiology such as sleep, circadian rhythm, muscle and bone metabolism, cardiovascular, micro and molecular biology can be explored under highly controlled environmental conditions. In addition, the players in the aerospace industry are examined from a psychological perspective. Our research results and the technological innovations derived from them can be used directly in psychological and biomedical applications.
Cardiovascular aerospace medicine
Cardiovascular aerospace medicine examines the effects of real and simulated weightlessness, extreme atmospheric conditions, nutrition and physical training on the human cardiovascular system. The mechanisms of structural and functional adaptation of the heart and large blood vessels as well as the influence of the autonomic nervous system on the regulation of the cardiovascular system are researched. The research results can not only serve to develop countermeasures to avoid the deconditioning of astronauts during long-term space flights, but also to help with the early detection of diseases and to make therapies even more effective for patients.
Muscle and bone metabolism
The research area Muscle and Bone Metabolism examines the adaptation of the human body to changed environmental conditions such as weightlessness, atmospheric composition, diet and lack of exercise. Genetic predisposition and aging processes are also taken into account. On this basis, efficient countermeasures against muscle breakdown, bone loss and metabolic disorders can be developed not only in space but also for possible clinical use, e.g. in rehabilitation medicine.
The department for sleep and performance deals with the topics of sleep, performance and well-being under the conditions of the modern performance society. The effects of environmental influences as well as individual factors are examined in order to develop countermeasures and strategies for use by actors in the aerospace industry. In addition to the basics of human medicine, the focus is also on application aspects, particularly in the field of aviation. The factors examined include acute and chronic lack of sleep, workload, the effects of stimulants, jet lag and individual differences in vulnerability to sleep deprivation. The homeostatic and circadian processes that determine the quality, duration and timing of sleep as well as cognitive performance are researched. In terms of methods, polysomnography, quantitative EEG analysis, gaze tracking, cognitive tests, as well as fMRI and PET imaging of the brain are available. Our studies are carried out both in the laboratory and in operational environments such as the cockpit.
In the field of baromedicine, research is conducted into how barometric and atmospheric conditions such as hypoxia and hypercapnia influence performance, sleep and well-being. A vacuum chamber is used for this. In this area, we are also available to the aviation industry and authorities to work together to test protective equipment and emergency protocols.
In order to be able to guarantee medical care over a spatial distance on site with the patient, digital health is used. The patient’s condition can be recorded in real time using digital and communicating medical devices, for example in the home environment, in order to be able to initiate medical measures based on this.
The Gravitational Biology department examines the reactions of biological systems in reduced or increased gravity. Various methods can be used for this on earth: On the one hand, centrifuges can generate increased acceleration, and on the other hand, functional weightlessness can be generated using clinostats. This forms an important basis for the preparation of experiments in space. In cooperation with universities, the influence of gravity, e.g. on cellular systems such as immune, cancer and stem cells, is investigated. With the help of centrifuge research, training measures can be developed to compensate for physiological changes that occur in astronauts or bedridden patients. The data obtained on the ground are validated by experiments in real microgravity, for example in the drop tower or on parabolic flights.
The radiation biology department aims to provide effective protection against ionizing and non-ionizing radiation in the aerospace industry. Her tasks therefore include the assessment of radiation exposure at different flight altitudes and for various scenarios of space missions using active and passive dosimetry, the development of new dosimeters and model calculations of radiation fields. Based on this, radiation protection guidelines and suitable countermeasures are developed. The investigation of the biological effects of space radiation – especially heavy ions – at the cellular and molecular level and the better understanding of the cellular radiation response that can be achieved with it, also results in new research approaches for improving the radiation therapy of tumors.
The Department of Aerospace Psychology serves as an interface between technical innovation and people and focuses on those directly or indirectly involved in aerospace such as pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers and astronauts.
Ultimately, people are decisive for safety in aviation: On the one hand, they can recognize and compensate for technical malfunctions, on the other hand, they are also the greatest risk factor due to their susceptibility to errors. Still around 70 percent of aircraft accidents have their main cause in human error. Inadequate communication and cooperation or unsystematic decision-making lead to flight accidents more often than, for example, the weather or technology. On the other hand, good decision-making in a team can demonstrably prevent aircraft accidents on a much larger scale. The operators in aviation – especially pilots and air traffic controllers – are ultimately the decisive factor in how safe a flight is.
In addition to classic cognitive, psychomotor and sensory skills, various personality traits play an important role in the suitability and reliability of pilots and air traffic controllers. The aviation and aerospace psychology department at IKON conducts research into these human factors with the aim of increasing the performance of the operators and thus ensuring the reliability of future operators as well as possible, who are thus able to cope with the professional requirements in the long term. This not only increases flight safety, but also offers economic advantages for the airlines and air traffic controllers, as well-selected personnel reduce training costs. We therefore focus on the development of specific psychological aptitude tests as well as a system of optimal communication and cooperation in intercultural teams.
IKON Aerospace Center
Institute of Aerospace Medicine
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