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Summer brings studies for Ohio State, COSI

Courtesy of COSI

The warmer months in Columbus are often designated for picnics, swimsuits, baseball games and outdoor activities. This summer, however, a group of exercise science students are taking their activities indoors to COSI in a collaborative research attempt to examine and explain human body performance.

A group of at least 10 Ohio State students will engage in several different research projects at the Performance Lab in the Labs in Life section of COSI. The lab, which opened in fall 2009 and consists of three glass-enclosed research areas and one glass-enclosed conference room, is fully viewable to the public and open to public participation.

“Because of our unique location at COSI we are able to carry out research and utilize the public while sharing our research with the public,” said Carmen Swain, program director in sport and exercise sciences at OSU and director of the Human Performance Lab.

The collaboration, which grew out of an effort from the upper administration at OSU and COSI to bring research into the community, began after officials on both sides reviewed surveys and questionnaires that showed a community disinterest in research, Swain said.

Two studies scheduled for this summer will examine how promotion of physical fitness in men and women participants can reduce the likelihood of cancer.

Chrissy Knopp, a third-year in exercise science education, and Erica Toivonen, a second-year in exercise science education, are receiving a Pelotonia research scholarship of $12,000 each for their work in the lab.

They plan to test 300 participants ages 18 to 65 who are moderate to high-risk cancer subjects. “Reduce the Risk” plans to recruit 150 male volunteers who have a link within two generations to renal, colon or lung cancer and “One Goal” plans to recruit 150 women volunteers who have links to breast, uterine or colon cancer, as these cancers are highly correlated with physical inactivity in the respective sexes, Knopp said. Researchers will call on COSI visitors who are watching the research to volunteer.

During the study, Knopp and Toivonen plan to test the participants’ flexibility, resting heart rate, blood pressure, aerobic output and, with the help of the BOD POD, an instrument that measures lean body mass and fat mass via air displacement, they will test each individual’s total body composition.

Researchers said they hope the study will make participants more aware of their physical health and promote lifestyle changes that will reduce their risk for cancer.

“We want to see after we test them if their intent to exercise increases. It is important in this population because these cancers are really highly correlated with physical inactivity. There is about a 25 percent decrease in getting breast cancer if you are physically active, which is huge,” Knopp said.

Elan Lieber, a third-year in exercise science education and researcher, also used COSI participants and the BOD POD for his similar study titled “Body Awareness: Improves Boys Intent to be Physically Active.”

Lieber found that in boys ages 6-19, the intent to exercise increased from 66 percent to 90 percent after reviewing their individual test scores regarding physical activity. Lieber won first place in the Health Professions Clinical category at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum on May 11 for his work on this study.

“The most rewarding apsect of my research at COSI is the ability to have a positive impact on the community, whether it is from testing over 300 boys in my own research study and educating them on their fitness levels or giving a demo to 50-plus COSI visitors,” Lieber said in an email. “I’m sharing the knowledge I have learned in my studies at OSU to help them lead a healthier lifestyle.”

All researchers at the lab conduct their own research and write their own proposals and manuscripts with the intent of getting their studies published or presenting them at national forums.

“A unique aspect of this undergraduate research is they are not just taking a little part in some funded study that has already been started,” Swain said.

Other research scheduled for this summer includes a study on running barefoot, parents’ perception of their children’s physical characteristics, an exer-game study, where the subject exercises while playing a video game like with a Wii, measuring caloric output and more. Some of these projects are still pending the approval of OSU’s Department of Education and Human Ecology.

All of the scheduled studies are intended to have large-scale participation with 300-500 subjects, a participant base that might be hard to achieve in a traditional lab in a university setting, Swain said.

“I know in my department, it is always a concern. Are you able to get your sample size? How are you going to recruit subjects? It’s always tough, but we have had no problem getting our sample size here,” Swain said.

COSI officials are also pleased with OSU’s research presence in Labs in Life.

“We are delighted to be working with Ohio State. Labs in Life shows science in action, and promotes outreach to the community while helping OSU recruit for their studies,” said Jaclyn Reynolds, public relations and social media manager for COSI.

Swain said she believes the success of the collaboration in Labs in Life is due to the quality of undergraduate researchers and research in the Performance Lab.

“Undergrads have unique perspectives that maybe faculty don’t have and being in a children’s science museum has been a really great place to have youth and good ideas,” Swain said. “That has really worked out here.”

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