Anthropology’s Cynthia Beall to discuss high-altitude adaptation at next Science Café Cleveland

Science Cafe Cleveland logoThe next Science Café Cleveland event will feature a talk titled “Living High” by Cynthia Beall, Distinguished University Professor and the Sarah Idell Pyle Professor in the Department of Anthropology.

Heart pounding, chest heaving, head throbbing, feeling like you could not walk another step without risking collapsing. Is that how you felt while gazing out from the summit of Pike’s Peak at 14,000 feet? Or on that skiing trip to Colorado where the peaks are mostly between 10,000 and 14,000 feet? Or maybe even at a Browns’ game in Denver, the Mile-High City?

Ever wondered why you felt that way—and how it was that the locals seemed to not be similarly afflicted? If asked, the locals probably said you get used to it in time, and they were correct: After a week or two in these altitudes, blood thickens, breathing slows a bit, and lung blood pressure remains elevated—and people start to feel normal again, a sign of the ability of human bodies to adapt to changing environments.

But what was there to get used to? It is the fact that higher altitudes contain fewer oxygen molecules in every breath people take in. Compared to Cleveland, there are about 40 percent fewer oxygen molecules in a breath at Pike’s Peak, and this results in a situation called hypoxia (low oxygen).

But some interesting questions arise from this. What exactly is going on during that adaptation process? And are those changes helpful or harmful in the long run? Does this same process happen to everyone, including the 100 million or so people who live permanently above 8,000 feet in the Andes, Tibet and Ethiopia?

Learn the answers to these questions and more at the event, sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University chapter of Sigma Xi, WCPN ideastream and the Market Garden Brewery. It will take place Monday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Market Garden Brewery (1947 W. 25th St.).

Attendees are advised to arrive early, as past sessions have approached capacity.

More information about the event can be found at the Sigma Xi website.