Houghton anatomy students visit Tech

HOUGHTON — Houghton High School anatomy students visited Michigan Technological University Friday for a taste of college biology and physiology coursework Friday morning and afternoon.

“We bring them up here and try to give them some hands-on activities and hopefully inspire some students to think about careers in science,” said Steven Elmer, assistant professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Tech.

There’s a mix of new and returning activities. Some of them are also used in courses at Tech, Elmer said.

In one activity, students rode a tandem bike with a twist. One student, pedaling the normal way, which uses concentric (muscle-shortening) contractions. That rider operated in resistance to the force produced by the other side, who pedaled in reverse, creating eccentric (muscle-lengthening) contractions. (For another example, walking up a hill is concentric, while lwalking down is eccentric.)

“How hard would you say that was on a scale of 1 to 10?” asked Derek Walli, a graduate student in kinesiology and physiology.

“4,” said 11th-grader Jada Markham, on the eccentric bicycle.

“7,” said her counterpart, 12th-grader Quentin Stachowiak.

Eccentric exercises, because they are less taxing on the body, can be useful in physical therapy with elderly people or people recovering from an injury, Walli said. The ease of the exercise also keeps people motivated.

“Even if you have the bet rehab program in the world, if you can’t keep your patients coming in, it’s not going to help them that much,” he said.

Upstairs, students measured the body’s response to a fight-or-flight situation — in this case, simulated by putting 11th-grader Danielle Lund’s hand in a bucket of ice water.

Her systolic blood pressure, which had hovered around the 110 mark beforehand, jumped into the 150s at times. Every 15 seconds, she self-reported the level of pain. It jumped dramatically over the first minute, then receded.

“After a while, I just couldn’t feel my hand anymore, and the pain went down,” she said afterward. “It was weird having everything monitored all at once, and seeing it the screen at the same time.”

Ida Fonkoue, who recently completed her Ph.D. in biological sciences, ran the experiment. She told students the two biggest lessons to take from the activity were that blood pressure is in constant flux, and that cold, physical stress and pain affect the sympathetic system.

Older people are more likely to have heart attacks in cold temperatures or during exertion because their bodies are less adpatable to sudden changes in condition.

“When you put yourself in a situation where you need more and your body cannot handle it, it’s a problem,” she said. “Now, your body can handle those oscillations.”

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