They're going on a parabolic flight - and you can go too!
Always wanted to find out what zero gravity is like? Now's your chance! In December 2017 a Dutch student team will be conducting experiments during a parabolic flight, and they're looking for healthy volunteers. You do have to meet a number of strict conditions, says team leader Evelien Lageweg.
What kinds of thjngs will I have to do to while weightless?
‘In December we will be going to Bordeaux for a number of parabolic flights. When a plane first makes a steep ascent and then a rapid descent, you experience a moment of weightlessness. Right at that moment the nine volunteers will play a computer game using their brains but no physical movements. Using an EEG cap (a kind of swimming cap with electrodes, Ed.) we can record the brain activity of the volunteers, who could be firing a cannon and shooting down aliens - in their imagination. That's something they can do on firm ground, but we are trying to find out whether it's also possible when they're weightless.’
Fascinating. And it's rocket science as well!
‘That's right! We're conducting this experiment for ESA, the European Space Agency. They're very keen to know the outcome because it would be very useful for astronauts if they could carry out particular tasks with their brains. Imagine, for instance, that something on the International Space Station has to be repaired; there are many times when two hands aren't enough. In those kinds of circumstances, it would be really useful if you could control something, like a robot arm, with your brain. We're nowhere near that yet, but, who knows, we could make a contribution.'
Editor Nick Kivits from the publication Know How shows how a parabolic flight works (copyright Nick Kivits).
What do I have to be prepared to do?
‘For a start, you have to be right-handed, eighteen or older and not wear glasses. You also need to be in good physical and mental health. Before the flights you have to be in Nijmegen several times for training, so it's useful if you live nearby and if you have a weekly travel pass. And last but not least, you have to be free from 3 to 10 December to go to Bordeaux. The nine volunteers who go to France will have their travel and accommodation paid for but apart from that, it's volunteer work.'
How can I sign up?
Fly Your Thesis
The BrainFly student team from Leiden, Nijmegen and Amsterdam recently won the Fly Your Thesis competition. The competition, run by ESA, allows master's students and PhD candidates to carry out research in a weightless situation. ESA and Novespace in Bordeaux, the company that organises the parabolic flights, are partners in this venture. The students are supervised by Femke Nijboer, Assistant Professor of Neuropsychology.