Boarding now for a lab unlike any other! This research project conducted by Olivier White from the Cognition, Action and Sensorimotor Plasticity (CAPS) Unit in Dijon involves disrupting the Earth’s gravity aboard Airbus A310 Zero-G.
"A radical way of understanding how the human brain controls movement is to disrupt its functioning!" explains Olivier White, motor control specialist in the Cognition, Action and Sensorimotor Plasticity (CAPS) Unit* led by Charalambos Papaxanthis in Dijon. Under the influence of the Earth’s gravity, the brain, like an orchestra conductor, harmonizes sensory information from multiple sources in order to calibrate our movements. Among them:
- proprioception, through which receptors in our muscles, ligaments and joints enable us to locate the various parts of our body with our eyes closed;
- the vestibular system in the inner ear, which plays a role in spatial orientation, the feeling of acceleration and the maintenance of balance;
- and finally, vision.
"What better than to modify the Earth’s gravity to which we are all subject since birth?" Such is the project being conducted by White in conjunction with various international teams and which consists of disrupting the entire body – except for the hand, which will be maintained under conditions of terrestrial gravity. In the space domain, this approach would enable us to find out whether it is necessary to develop systems for facilitating the movements of pilots or whether it is better to let the brain handle the disruption alone. The findings obtained could ultimately also lead to progress in medicine, particularly when it comes to the motor rehabilitation of stroke or hemiplegia patients. Now the time has come for us to leave the lab bench. We have a plane to catch!
This parabolic flight campaign was funded by CNES.
And as a bonus, a short video! (🚨Spoiler alert🚨: the much-awaited 22 seconds of weightlessness begin at around 00:00:50.)
*Inserm/Université de Bourgogne, University Hospital of Dijon Unit 1093.