Biology and Medicine Laboratory


To manufacture medical products
To carry out biological experiments
To develop medical products
To carry out other medical research

You are doing your daily exercise in the recreation module, but you will have go to the bio-med lab for a physical check-up at regular intervals during your three- or six-month stay. This procedure is not only for your benefit, but is also part of the ongoing research into the effects of long-term space travel.

Apart from weightlessness, you are exposed to some radiation that you would not experience on Earth. Experiments are carried out to discover what happens to living things in space, to find ways of preventing serious irreversible effects on future space travellers.

This image is from Skylab 4 mission training, prior to launch. Gerald Carr exercises on the bicycle ergometer during a body mass measurement experiment as part of the pre-launch tests.

© Image: NASA




The Physiological Effects of Gravity

The easiest way to simulate weightlessness in space is through prolonged bedrest. Longterm patients suffer weakening of the muscles and slight weakening of the bones because they are not working against gravity. Astronauts can actually grow a little in space, and this can happen to you after a night's sleep, because you are lying down. Measure yourself very accurately before you go to bed, then again as soon as you get up.

Are you any taller?
What part of your skeleton is compressing to bring you back to your normal height?
Why is this, and what purpose does this part normally serve?

Microgravity and Medicine

The bio-medical facility will be one of the most productive facilities on the Station. It is possible that hundreds if not thousands of new medical products could be made in microgravity. One such product that benefits from production in space is Interferon, which has many important medical applications.

Most biological processes take place in liquid or fluid and they are really just rather complex chemistry. For two chemicals to react they need to be in contact. Very often, however it is difficult to achieve this in the presence of gravity, because many fluids of different density want to separate, and float on each other - the heaviest going to the bottom, the lightest to the top. The same process occurs when very small particles - for instance tiny biological cells - are floating in the liquid. This is known as liquid or fluid suspension.

Here again, the particles separate by density, the densest sinking to the bottom. Of course, cells of different density are probably different types. But what if you wanted all the different types mixed together so they could meet and react together? They can't if they are floating at different levels in the fluid.

On Earth it is possible to shake or stir such suspensions, but the result will probably not be as good as if you were able to put the suspension into microgravity. Shaking up might get them in contact, but not for long enough that biological interaction can start.

But in space, the cells would not separate in the same way, and we could make our biological reactions take place more easily and quickly.

The production of many new medical products would be possible or the production of old ones speeded up in the presence of microgravity.


Separation and Combination of Liquids

Get a glass jar. Put in some water. Add some cooking oil. What do you see: the oil floats on the water. Now shake the jar.

What happens?
Does the oil and water mix?
Yes. But if you leave it still what happens now?

The oil floats back up and separates from the water. Try it.

1) The oil floats on the water. 2) Shake well and it mixes. 3) But it quickly begins to separate - after just 10 seconds 4) After some time it separates completely.

The simple explanation is that the oil is lighter than the water and therefore floats on it, in the same way that a piece of wood will float on water.

But what if you want the two liquids to mix and stay mixed? What can you do?

If you take the oil and water to the Space Station and repeat the experiment, the liquids should stay mixed. The fluid will continue to splash about inside the jar for a while and then it will start to form a sphere shaped globule or a number of such globules.

And if you want to separate them, apply a little gravity. Artificial gravity can be created by spinning the jar round and round. In our laboratory on the space station we would have a device for doing this - the centrifuge. Similar equipment is commonly used on Earth and many school laboratories will have one.

Go to Space Station 2020 Specification

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Follow Henna Rashid on Spacestation 2020 and learn about Microbiology