21 , 2002
without the climb
they're only on the second floor of Solano Hall, people in the kinesiology
department's human performance lab sometimes feel like they've climbed
to the top of a mountain. That's because the lab now sports a new
hypoxic chamber that allows faculty researchers to simulate high-elevation
conditions in sea level Sacramento.
It can mimic conditions at elevations as high as 14,000 feet, nearly
the height of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United
The $25,000 chamber, which arrived over the summer, offers students
learning opportunities they wouldn't find at other California universities.
"We're the only school I know of in UC or CSU that has one,"
says kinesiology professor Roberto Quintana. He and colleague Daryl
Parker study the effects of high-elevation on human performance.
At sea level, air is 21 percent oxygen, but by the time you get
to 9,000 feet, oxygen content is down to 16 percent. To re-create
the low oxygen conditions found at elevation the nine- by five-foot
chamber uses a filter to that "scrubs out" oxygen from
the interior and keeps outside oxygen from entering.
The chamber is large enough to accommodate exercise assessment equipment
as well as a stationary bicycle or a set of steps for the exercise
portion of their experiments.
Quintana says they first plan to use the new setup to study mountaineering
and acute mountain sickness. "Acute mountain sickness negatively
affects mountaineering performance and can lead to more severe conditiona
known as HAPE, high altitude pulmonary edema, and HACE, high altitude
cerebral edema," he says. "The use of gingko biloba has
been shown to reduce acute mountain sickness. We're going to add
exercise to the mix and see if using gingko biloba still results
in a reduction of acute mountain sickness and improves mountaineering
performance at an altitude of 14,000 feet."
Later Quintana, Parker and recreation and leisure studies professor
Kevin Tatsugawa plan to replicate their experiments in the field,
probably at Mt. Whitney and at Denali National Park in Alaska. Outside
magazine has expressed an interest in the results.
Along with looking at how altitude affects mountaineering performance
and acute mountain sickness, Quintana and Parker also want to investigate
changes in metabolism and oxygen transport. The result could have
implications in the treatment of diabetes and understanding of basic
limitations to oxygen transport.