Greg Potter talks sleep quality, influences in STEM-Talk episode 137

Sleep is a precious commodity — especially if you struggle with it. Nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, and circadian biology are an interrelated web with tremendous influence on the quality of our sleep.

In the latest episode of STEM-Talk (episode 137), we pick up a conversation with Dr. Greg Potter in an interview where he explores topics including insomnia, sleep apnea, time-restricted eating, exercise, nutrition, and supplementation. The first part of our interview (STEM-Talk episode 136) with Potter brought a deep-dive into circadian biology, sleep, diet, and metabolism.

Potter ‘s work has been featured in the BBC World Service, the Washington Post, Reuters and other scientific journals and news outlets. Some of Potter’s conversation with IHMC’s CEO and founder Dr. Ken Ford in episode 137 touches on whether there is a biological basis for the idea of chronotypes, a concept that some people are better suited to an earlier or later sleep schedule.

So, is there such a thing — biologically — as morning larks and night owls?

“I think the chronotype does exist in both human and non-human animals” but it is hard to work out the influence of genetics and environment.,” says Potter, who cites a study about the impact of camping on early birds and night owls.

In this study, once folks were camping, their biological clocks synced very strongly with the environmental clock — and the difference between the early and late risers shrank noticeably. The late risers’ biological clocks moved back to more closely match the early risers, who were in general already closer to the environmental day-night cues from nature.

Ford and Potter also talk about chrononutrition, the relationship between a person’s nutrition and their body clock. What you eat influences the function of your body clock, because your clock optimizes your body for certain processes at certain times of day. The question is whether you can use that understanding to optimize your diet.

Some key terms for this conversation: Time-restricted eating. (restricting eating to a period of 12 hours or less each day). Intermittent fasting is periodic use of a fast of 24 hours or longer.

Potter’s key takeaways:

  • “If we think about the day beginning when you wake up, you should wait before you consume anything other than water. At least an hour, especially if you awaken in the “biological night” because you likely have a good deal of melatonin circulating in your body.
  • Time-restricted eating using a 6- to 12-hour “eating window” is a good way to go for most people. Base your “eating window” on what your goals are. If you currently eat over a 14-hour period, don’t jump straight to an 8-hour eating window. Start with a 12-hour window, then back it down. If your goal is to lose weight, using an 8-hour window might be preferable.
  • In general, a shorter eating window is well-suited to the ketogenic diet. The longer fasting period is likely to accelerate the ketosis period. So, if you are just starting on the ketogenic diet, you might want to implement time-restricted eating to make it more straightforward.
  • Wait maybe 3 to 6 hours between meals. If you eat more frequently than that, if you are interested in your body composition, you might not be able to maximally stimulate muscle tissue synthesis over time.
  • Front-loading intakes matters. Studies have shown that front-loading — eating a big breakfast followed by smaller meals as the day goes on — can help weight loss and blood sugar control.
  • When you exercise also matters. If you exercise in the afternoon, you don’t need to worry so much about front-loading because of the influence exercise has on metabolism.
  • Distribute your protein intake relatively evenly throughout the day. A lot of people have loads of protein at dinner and little at breakfast. With respect to body composition, that’s not ideal. At each meal, you need enough protein to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. And at the end of the day, stop eating two hours before bedtime.

There is a school of thought that we should re-engineer our lifestyles to better mimic certain aspects of our distant ancestors to protect ourselves from chronic diseases and boost our energy levels. While that may not be practical in total, Potter says there are  aspects of our ancient ancestors’ lives we ought to emulate.

  • Eat food that is minimally processed and locally available.
  • Build physical activity around eating. Studies show a 20-minute walk after eating improves blood sugar response.
  • Spend enough time outdoors in daylight and keep the sleeping area dark.
  • These people shared everything – food, caregiving responsibilities in a fairly un-hierarchical life. Community and connection is important not only for our biological, but also our social well-being.

Listen to the full conversation here.  




Dr. Niranjan Suri named IHMC associate director

Dr. Niranjan Suri has been named an associate director at Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Suri is an IHMC Senior Research Scientist and Associate for Research for the Information Sciences Division at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

Suri has been part of the IHMC family since 1994 and was part of its beginnings at the University of West Florida.  It is a fitting chapter in the career of Suri, who first connected with IHMC founder Dr. Ken Ford as a UWF student and teaching assistant back in the early 1990s.

“I have known Niranjan since he was a student long ago and have enjoyed watching his development as a colleague and successful senior research scientist at IHMC,” Ford says. “He has always been a joy to work with and a team player. He has contributed to IHMC in many ways and now, while continuing his important research, he steps into a leadership role.”

“One of the best parts of being with the IHMC team is to be able to work with a diverse, interdisciplinary group of people, with expertise in a wide variety of subject matters,” Suri says. “I think another excellent attribute at IHMC is that everyone is trying to be helpful – so that all of us can succeed in our research.”

Suri’s recent research focuses on Agile Computing, which supports the discovery, management, and exploitation of resources and information in highly dynamic networked environments. His other research interests include Distributed Systems, Networking, Communications Protocols, and Internet of Things.

He recalls that his first IHMC-related job — back when IHMC was in a small section of Building 79, then the Computer Science department — was for Dr. Alberto Canas, IHMC Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist, for a project called Quorum.

“(Quorum’s) goal was to enable school kids in South and Central America to collaborate and exchange information,” Suri says. “I was also a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Ford for his Introduction to AI course. ”

While working on his master’s degree at UWF, Suri started focusing more on his own research and working with others, like Dr. Jeffrey Bradshaw, on Software Agents. They first started working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and then branched out to do more work with the U.S. Army, Navy/Marine Corps, and Air Force.

“My research has since mostly evolved to focus on Distributed Systems, Intelligent Networking, and Communications, and the area we more broadly label Agile Computing,” Suri says.

In his work with the Army Research Lab, Suri works with a number of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Research Task Groups. He also supports the Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT) program at the Army Research Lab and was responsible for setting up the Distributed Virtual Proving Ground (DVPG), an experimental testbed that connects multiple university and government sites together for joint experimentation.

He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in Computer Science at UWF for over 10 years and currently mentors two students in the joint IHMC-UWF Intelligent Systems and Robotics Ph.D. program.

He has been a principal investigator of numerous research projects sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation.

Suri has authored or co-authored more than 200 papers, has been on the technical program committees of several international conferences, and has been a reviewer for NSF as well as several international journals.

While assuming a leadership role at IHMC, Suri will continue his research work. He hopes to continue the traditions that have made IHMC a compelling and unique place to work.

“Compared to other organizations, a great part of IHMC is the freedom for researchers to focus on their work with minimal overhead and interference,” Suri says. “Leadership is there to help all the researchers succeed, not to get in their way. As an Associate Director, I hope to continue that trend.”

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technology aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. IHMC researchers and staff collaborate extensively with the government, industry and academia to help develop breakthrough technologies. IHMC research partners have included: DARPA, the National Science Foundation, NASA, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Institutes of Health, IBM, Microsoft, Honda, Boeing, Lockheed, and many others.


Carol Carlan joins IHMC as director of philanthropy

Carol Carlan has joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition as director of philanthropy.

Carlan, who most recently had been president of Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation, brings a wealth of experience, knowledge, and a deep connection to the community to the new role.

Carol Carlan joins IHMC as Director of Philanthropy.

“IHMC is a jewel of Pensacola. The team there has built an international reputation for excellence in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics,” Carlan said. “The healthspan, resilience, and performance research is on the same trajectory. The chance to be a part of IHMC, and to tell its story, was a thrilling opportunity. I can’t wait to get started.”

As director of philanthropy, she will share IHMC’s story and help to grow national and communitywide support for its work.

“Carol’s passion for improving the community is rivaled only by her commitment to the value of research and education as a tool to build not only an individual’s potential, but also a community’s future prospects,” said IHMC CEO and Founder Ken Ford. “We are fortunate to add an advocate of her skill and expertise on our team.”

“As IHMC has grown, so too have the opportunities for the community to support our work grown,” Ford said. “Carol was IHMC’s inaugural board chair. She has been with us from our beginnings and is uniquely qualified to share the story of how the footprint of our work has evolved over time.”

Carol is a longtime community leader and successful business executive.  Her banking career spanned more than 35 years as the first female president of a large regional bank, and for the past 10 years as the President of the Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation. She led one of the largest capital campaigns in the region which resulted in a new children’s hospital and expansion of children’s services in the Destin market.  Under her leadership the foundation generated more than $62 million dollars of philanthropic dollars during her tenure.

As President of Carlan Consulting, a leadership development company, she is a founding member of the John Maxwell Team, a global training organization for leaders with more than 50,000 members worldwide.

As a community leader she has served on more than 35 not-for-profit organizations during her career and is an Emeritus member of the Pensacola State Foundation, a founding member of The Pace Center of Girls Escambia/Santa Rosa, long time member of the Pace State Board of Trustees, Inaugural Chair of the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), 125th Chair of the Greater Pensacola Chamber and is currently the longest serving Trustee of Pensacola State College Board of Trustees.

She has received numerous awards and recognition for her work to name just a few.

Pensacola Chamber PACE Awards recognized her as the Spirit of Pensacola and Business Leader of the Year, she was recognized by her peers of Leadership Pensacola with the Blue Angel Leadership Award, a participant of the Leadership Florida Class of XXX, recognized for her many years of work as a Trustee of the Pace Center for Girls State Board of Trustees she was awarded the 25th anniversary Pioneer Award, the regional Pinnacle Award for her many years of service to state and local organizations.

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technology aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. IHMC researchers and staff collaborate extensively with the government, industry, and academia to help develop breakthrough technologies. IHMC research partners have included: DARPA, the National Science Foundation, NASA, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Institutes of Health, IBM, Microsoft, Honda, Boeing, Lockheed, and many others.

Greg Potter STEM-Talk tracks power of body’s “master clock”

Your body’s “master clock” evolved to help keep you alive and safe. And when it’s disrupted, it doesn’t take long at all for the negative impacts of that circadian rhythm shift to be felt in your health and well-being.

The latest episode of STEM-Talk (episode 136) brings a deep-dive into the intricate connections between your body’s circadian biology, sleep, diet, and metabolism, with Dr. Greg Potter.

Dr. Greg Potter is the guest on Episode 136 of STEM-Talk.

Potter gained attention in the U.S. and Europe for his research into the importance of biological rhythms and sleep and how they affect people’s lives. His work has been featured in the BBC World Service, the Washington Post, Reuters and other scientific journals and news outlets.

He also co-founded Resilient Nutrition in 2020, a company that leverages science to produce foods and supplements geared toward helping people feel and perform better. He earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in exercise science from Loughborough University in England before heading off to the University of Leeds for his Ph.D.

During his STEM-Talk interview, Potter talks about a paper he published in Endocrine Reviews in 2016 on circadian rhythm and sleep disruption. Some of his key points:

Organisms evolve in the presence of relatively predictable changes in the environment: light, temperature, food availability. Think of these as an environmental clock, he says. To thrive in these environments, people evolved biological rhythms to cope:

  • Ultradian rhythms repeat cyclically throughout a 24-hour period (heartbeat, blinking, appetite, circulation, etc.).
  • Circadian rhythms recur every 20-30 hours (core body temperature, sleep-wake cycle). These persist even when someone doesn’t have time cues.
  • Infradian rhythms, the slowest of these, last longer than one day, such as the menstrual cycle.

The purpose of these rhythms is to maximize our body’s performance of certain functions and adapt to changes in the environment, Potter said. Think of it as a master clock in your brain (circadian clock) and peripheral clocks.

“Why is it a problem if we disrupt our clock? Most if not all aspects of our biology suffer and many of us have felt this during jetlag,” he says.

Some experiments have shown that if you assign otherwise healthy people to a 28-hour day, after three of those days, they begin to show signs of pre-diabetes because their eat-sleep cycle is so disrupted, Potter said. This misalignment increases blood pressure and increases inflammatory markers.

Blood sugar regulation is one of these peripheral clocks. Studies show people’s glucose tolerance is 17 percent lower in the biological evening than it is the biological morning. Metanalysis has shown that blood sugar responses therefore are worse when you eat between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Humans now face dealing with the “social clock”, which our evolutionary ancestors did not have, but that industrialization made this clock more prominent.

For example, Potter said, we now spend 88 percent of our days indoors. Indoor lighting is lower intensity that natural light – 30 times less intense than natural sunlight.

“We’ve also engineered physical activity out of our lives,” Potter says. We don’t have to be active to get our food. Some 86 percent of American don’t meet basic physical activity requirements, Potter says. Now in the digital age, we can work in distributed teams across multiple time zones and that can contribute to disruption.

All of that combines for a lot of change – and evolutionarily speaking — our bodies haven’t caught up to all those changes.

“Our body’s clock still follows the sun despite whatever the social clock does, despite whatever time changes are enforce,” Potter said.

Listen to the whole talk here, and look for part two to cover topics ranging from insomnia, sleep apnea, time-restricted eating, exercise, and nutrition.

Dr. Duane Mitchell talks immunotherapy cancer treatment

While immunotherapy is a relatively recent – and promising – cancer treatment, the underpinning of it goes back more than 100 years. 

That’s according to IHMC Evening Lecture guest Dr. Duane Mitchell, whose April 2022 talk focused on immunotherapy for treatment of cancers, including the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma.

Dr. Duane Mitchell of the University of Florida speaks at an IHMC Evening Lecture in April 2022.

Mitchell is an expert in the development of innovative immunotherapy treatments for children and adults with malignant brain tumors. He is the Phyllis Kottler Friedman Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery. He serves as Director of the University of Florida Clinical Translational Science Institute and Co-Director of the Preston A. Wells, Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy. 

He has pioneered therapies that have been translated into first-in-human clinical trials and multi-center phase 2 studies. His cancer research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 2009. In his talk, he reviewed advances in immunotherapy treatments for more than 15 types of cancer including prostate, lung, breast, and melanoma. 

Immunotherapy is a field that has grown significantly in the last 10 years. Historically, the concept that the immune system might recognize and try to fight cancer dates back at least to the late 1800s. As a treatment, it began gaining widespread traction in the mid-1990s. 

That 100-year-old insight can be traced to a patient who had a surgical resection and then a subsequent bacterial infection. In treatment of the bacterial infection, the immune cells were spurred to respond to fight the cancer cells as well, and the patient experienced remission of the remaining cancer, Mitchell said. That began a series of experiments by Dr. William Coley, who injected patients with bacteria to try to induce this immunologic response. A form of this treatment method is used to this day, for example, in some superficial bladder cancers, Mitchell said. 

The immune system sends signals either to health and repair, or fight and kill. Cancer in a sense sends the body mixed signals, Mitchell said. There are abnormalities the body can recognize, but there are also proteins that do not trigger that response. Often the result is the body’s response is to “feed, grow, and heal” the cancer rather than to “kill” the malignant cells, Mitchell said. 

The immune system has both activating and regulatory signals, which tell the body to attack or not. Mitchell said, in cancer, the activating signals are being overridden by these regulatory “checkpoint” signals. The ability to block these signals has been a huge shift in treatment, Mitchell says. 

These have had dramatic effect in melanoma, non-small-cell lung cancer and 15 other cancers. 

“This has been a revolution of a 100-year-old concept… it’s quite a dramatic shift,” he said. 

The audience at the IHMC Evening Lecture series in Pensacola in April 2022.

This has manifested in four broad types of treatment: 

  • Vaccine to try to stimulate the immunologic response. Loading dendritic cells with antigens or delivering the antigen into the patient so that their own dendritic cells pick up the antigen and engage the immune system.
  • Adoptive cellular therapy. This therapy extracts T-cells to grow them in large numbers and then deliver the cells back to the patient.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors. Turning these off, freeing the body’s own immune system to respond.
  • Viruses modified to kill tumor cells. The response to these viruses can also trigger the immune system to attack the tumor cells.

Immunotherapy has created an extension of durable benefits and survival for some patients, but not all. Why? That’s a question Mitchell and his team, and others, are continuing to research. 

The body’s microbiome has an influence on response to immunotherapy, Mitchell said. And while chemotherapy typically represses the patient’s immune system, in some cases using chemo and immunotherapy together has been shown to be quite effective, especially in certain types of breast cancers. 

Brain cancer is one of the cancers that is the hardest to treat, and this is an area where Mitchell’s team at UF is actively working, as well as understanding the durability of the immune response. 

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. For more information, visit ihmc.us. 

Triumph grant helps seed IHMC’s vision for human performance complex

It’s not enough for elite warfighters to have a high level of physical fitness and cognitive ability in today’s military. They also have to be resilient. While the tools and weapons of today’s warfighters have evolved dramatically over the past few decades, the military’s understanding of the biological processes that govern human performance and resilience has not evolved to the same level.

The planned IHMC human performance research complex will be a home for IHMC’s HRP work.

For years now, Ken Ford, IHMC’s co-founder and CEO, has envisioned a research team focused on finding innovative ways to extend the capabilities and resilience of high-performing humans who routinely operate in extreme conditions and environments.

“One of the reasons we’re interested in extreme environments is that high performing humans often fail in these environments, and you can learn a lot by studying failure mode,” said Ford. “If you take a high performing human, like an astronaut, and put them in space, things can go bad very quickly. That’s just as true under the ocean and it’s just as true in a fighter jet.”

Ford made this point during a 2018 interview with Florida Trend following a $1 million donation from Pensacola philanthropists and entrepreneurs Quint and Rishy Studer, who bought into the vision of an expanded role for IHMC to play in human performance.

The effort received another boost last year when Triumph Gulf Coast awarded IHMC $6 million to help seed a Healthspan, Resilience, and Performance complex. The new complex is being fast-tracked and will establish a one-of-a-kind capstone for research and development. The multimillion dollar facility will expand IHMC’s downtown campus into three main buildings.
In addition to creating a one-of-kind facility for human-performance research, the complex will bolster the regional economy through new funding in federal and industry-sponsored research.

“We will be collaborating closely with regional institutions and organizations that share an interest in human health span and performance,” said Julie Sheppard, IHMC’s Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel, who helped spearhead the Triumph proposal. “It’s our belief that these collaborations will lead to innovative spinoff opportunities not only for IHMC, but also will create opportunities for local technology transfer partners.”

IHMC has always focused on the development of science and technology to leverage and extend human performance, particularly cognition and then locomotion, said Ford. “Originally our work was strictly cognitive because IHMC was started mostly by artificial intelligence people. Then we moved to broaden that to include robotics. And then next we started looking at not just cognitive performance, but also physical performance, exoskeletons and several other related fields.”

About 10 years ago, Ford said he and others at the institute become more interested in broadening that work. “So now, rather than having only two approaches to elevating human performance, we are in the early stages of expanding our research into the biological means to do that.”

The Triumph funds, secured from BP in a legal settlement following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, have been set aside to stimulate economic development in eight Northwest Florida counties that were significantly impacted by the spill. Ford, as well as the Triumph board, believe the HRP complex will have a transformational economic impact on Northwest Florida.

Human performance research at IHMC will find a new home in a planned facility slated to open in early 2024.

IHMC currently receives significant federal government funding for its research, particularly as it applies to elite warfighters, astronauts and special-operations forces. The HRP complex will permit IHMC to grow its research portfolio in this emerging area. In addition to its collaborations with the Department of Defense, NASA and other federal departments and agencies, the HRP complex will bolster the regional economy through new collaborations and funding in federal and industry-sponsored research that focuses on molecular and genomic science; biochemistry; cellular and tissue biology; physiology; biomechanics; biomedical engineering; regenerative medicine; neuroscience; rehabilitation; clinical trials; and machine learning and computational biology.

The HRP complex is one of the reasons that Dr. Marcas Bamman joined IHMC last year.

“What we’re talking about is a rare, one-of-a-kind research opportunity,” said Bamman, an internationally recognized researcher known for his scientific contributions to the biology of human skeletal muscle and medical rehabilitation. Ford recruited Bamman to join IHMC’s biologically motivated team and become one of the ground-floor architects of the new effort.

As the founder and former director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Exercise Medicine, Bamman and the UAB center have been recognized as world leaders in the biological mechanisms underlying exercise-induced adaptations and their clinical utility in disease prevention and treatment as well as rehabilitation.

“What drew me, in addition to the talent, leadership and vision of IHMC, is the unique opportunity to establish a capstone research complex for advancing knowledge in human performance and resilience in a truly interdisciplinary manner,” said Bamman. “The idea is to bring together all the key focus areas that have not necessarily been co-located before. In other words, we will be bringing together everything from clinical assessment to rehabilitation to clinical trials to molecular and biological analysis. Then we will be able to use computational biology to look at people’s biological responses to various treatments in a very powerful way.”

What particularly excites Bamman is that the complex will allow him and others to do research from molecule to man.

Research into human performance soon will have a new home as work is set to begin on $20 million facility on IHMC’s Pensacola campus.

“One of the unique things we have here at IHMC, which will be substantially advanced by the new complex, is the ability to integrate researchers who specialize in human performance and resilience with computational scientists, artificial intelligence and even robotics. IHMC’s exoskeleton-based work has a high degree of relevance for military operators as well as rehabilitation sciences. And like I said, to be able to do all this with one large team that leads research from molecule to man, or molecule to the whole human, is pretty remarkable.”

Research programs with this scope typically rely on bringing together the expertise and facilities of several institutes from around the country or world, said Bamman.

“In the new HRP complex, we will be able to walk across the hall and tap into the expertise of people outside of our particular focus area. It will be an exciting environment where we as scientists can all learn from each other.”

Another key player in the development of the HRP complex is IHMC’s Chief Science Officer Tim Broderick. Broderick is a surgeon and biomedical engineer who has been a pioneer in laparoscopic, robotic and telerobotic surgery.

Prior to joining IHMC in 2019, Broderick was an academic surgeon and a DARPA program manager. During his years at DARPA, he conceived and established five high-impact biotechnology projects that included revolutionary programs focused on precision diagnosis and treatment of military-relevant diseases and injuries. Broderick also has led multiple ground, flight and undersea-based biomedical research projects.

Broderick and IHMC recently worked on a project that is part of a DARPA program known as the Measuring Biological Aptitude program, or MBA. It’s an example of the type of project that will become part of new complex’s impressive portfolio.

The crux of the MBA program is correlating the externally observable physical, behavioral, and cognitive features and traits of specialized operators and pilots with measurable elements of their biology to understand and ultimately anticipate how they will perform in various situations over time.

“This project allowed us to work on developing a disruptive training platform that integrates revolutionary molecular and metabolic analysis with some advanced predictive models. These models will use the latest approaches in machine learning and artificial intelligence utilizing novel real-time sensors that will allow us to measure the performance of a special forces operator or pilot.”

Some of the projects in IHMC’s pipeline that tap into the institute’s new multi-disciplinary expertise in human performance and resilience include:

• Evaluating Potential Benefits of Intranasal Oxytocin on Undersea Operator Training and Performance: Naval Special Warfare (NSW) operators are exposed to a variety of extreme environmental conditions and intense physical demands. In addition to beathing high-pressure gases during prolonged cold-water immersions, inadequate recovery from sustained physical exertion underwater can negatively impact individual and team performance. The sponsors are looking for biotechnologies that could mitigate the effects of cold as well as support physical recovery, which would represent a significant unmet need for the NSW operational community. A possible mitigant is oxytocin, which has a wide range of actions both locally in the brain and peripherally in the body as well as in skeletal muscle. These peripheral effects can be mediated by classic ligand-receptor activation given the abundant expression of the oxytocin receptor in peripheral tissues. The IHMC project is looking at the administration of exogenous oxytocin, an approved FDA Investigational New Drug that has been shown as an easy and safe method to increase circulating oxytocin concentrations that may augment actions on peripheral tissues. It is an easily administered, adjunctive biological therapy that has the potential to improve recovery, performance and resilience of warfighters.

Strategies to Augment Ketosis: Assessment of Prophylactic Ketone Administration on Concussive Injury in the U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course: IHMC researchers are conducting a novel trial designed to assess the efficacy of ketone ester supplementation during U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course training as a prophylactic against detrimental cognitive outcomes that soldiers sometimes experience following mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). The study is exploring whether a metabolically supported ketone-fueled brain is more protected from neurotrauma. As part of the trial, researchers are examining the pre-jump prophylactic potential of ketone ester supplementation to attenuate closed head injury-induced changes in cognitive performance. Researchers also are looking at the potential of ketone esters to alter blood and urine-based protein, molecular, metabolic and lipid profiles that are impacted by closed head injury during jump training. Another aspect of the study is the development of a multidimensional predictive model of mTBI risk among basic airborne training course participants.

Dr. Morley Stone, IHMC’s Chief Strategic Partnership Officer, says projects like this build upon the institute’s multidisciplinary experience. IHMC already has extensive experience with traumatic brain injury research as well as a long history of productive and collaborative research for the Department of Defense.

“In addition to our reputation and heritage of impactful research, IHMC’s internationally known researchers along with the new HRP complex will give us the infrastructure and experience capable of accepting and executing a wide range of grants and contracts related to human performance and resilience,” Stone said.

To accommodate this expansion into human-performance research, IHMC is hiring people with specialized expertise (see profiles pages 5 and 6). Dr. Kaleen Lavin is a physiologist and molecular biologist who was a postdoc with Bamman at UAB for three years before recently joining IHMC. Her specialties are in human physiology and computational biology.

“What I do is provide a kind of molecular perspective on how a person’s biology works. I incorporate a lot of computational work that helps us understand why people respond differently to exercise and other stressors, and why some people are more resilient than others when exposed to the exact same type of stress.”

To do this, Lavin is looking at a person’s biology at a very fine molecular level. She’s looking at a person’s gene expression and different proteins and how they change from person to person with exposure to stress.

“It requires a computational approach where the datasets are enormous,” said Lavin. “That’s how we are able to see the fine changes that we do see. But you can’t look at these datasets in a spreadsheet like you can with other types of data. Here, we’re talking about several tens of thousands of rows of data. Because of the complexity of the work we’re doing, it will significantly improve the speed and accuracy of our work if we’re able to have it become more automated with AI.”

Lavin is already working with some of the AI scientists at IHMC on innovative ways to analyze data and write programs that will advance how researchers can interpret the complex sets of molecular data that she pulls together. As Bamman points out, “There are just not that many research environments where you can walk across the hallway and do that.”

Bamman says the work that Lavin is doing is a great example of the kind of research IHMC will be able to do through the HRP complex.

“We want to be able to take blood and saliva samples and map all the molecular responses that can occur as a result of any number of things that can change a person’s physiology and how it relates to their physical and cognitive performance.”

For example, Bamman said, take two military operators who are performing some sort of strenuous task in an extreme environment like high altitude. There would be common responses between the two at the molecular level. But there would also be several differences between the two. So how that high-altitude stress impacts the two individuals differently at the molecular and performance level is what we’re trying to understand. “Kaleen is working with our AI scientists to map all of these similarities and differences,” said Bamman.

That’s why Lavin is so excited about the human performance complex.

“I love having the ability to ask the kind of questions that Marcas and the other researchers are talking about and having the resources around me to answer them in the most rigorous way possible by working with people who are top experts in their fields, fields that are quite different than mine. I mean, there’s no better way to do this kind of research. That’s what brought me to IHMC.”

Ford is working to fast-track the HRP complex and have the doors open in 2024.

“There is so much we can do once we get the HRP facility up and running. We will have an environmental chamber that we can use as a stress environment. We will have flight simulators and labs and the kind of advanced technology that will help rigorously test and measure physical and cognitive performances of warfighters, astronauts, pilots and other high-performing humans. I envision the complex being a place where researchers can, with very little bureaucracy, have access to a wide range of expertise to bear on a problem.”

Ford says that in terms of IHMC future, he anticipates about a third of the work at the institute will be in human performance and about a third in AI and another third in robotics.

“The vision for the human performance complex is to have a place where you can combine the computational expertise, the biological expertise and the translational expertise all in one place so that we can, as Marcas says, do research from molecule to man,” said Ford. “This facility really will be one-of-a-kind.”

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. For more information, visit ihmc.us. 

Dr. Mark Williams part of Evening Lecture series return

Can you spot the future superstar soccer player in this crowd?

If your choice is anyone other than short, slight boy on the second row, second from the right, bad news: You missed Lionel Messi.

Dr. Mark Williams, Senior Research Scientist at IHMC, has made it his business to learn what makes an elite athlete like Messi the best. His March 2022 talk as part of the IHMC’s popular Evening Lecture Series shared some of the common traits of the greats. The Evening Lecture Series has returned to both the Pensacola and Ocala IHMC campuses. To keep up with the latest schedule of talks, visit https://www.ihmc.us/life/evening_lectures/

Environment, birth order, adaptations, learning, and practice are all factors that build sports expertise, Williams said.

Dr. Mark Williams

So, too, is there room for science to explore the psychological and cognitive differences sports experts possess when compared to sub-experts in their field, Williams said.

For example, as soccer players in the Premier League Academy system age up, game intelligence skills become more key than the strictly physical gifts that can set them apart from their peers early on.

Elite athletes have some common psychological characteristics. They:

  • Pick up more visual cues from their opponents’ bodies. That’s because their hours of practice have created a rich library of cues and scenarios about what might happen next.
  • Have superior pattern recognition.
  • Have more effective visual search behaviors. That’s reflected in something called the “Quiet Eye” phenomenon. That’s the period of final visual fixation before the performance of the final phase of movement — when it really counts, what your eye lasers in on before you commit the physical movement.
  • Have greater robustness under pressure (fixate centrally and use peripheral vision to gather info).

What also begins to matter more is what Williams calls, the psychology of excellence. Skills like motivation, mental toughness, perfectionism, resilience, and coping become crucial components for an expert, he says.

And while yes, the popular notion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice — at least — to be great at something has scientific merit, expertise is also developed by how those hours are spent. Experts, Williams shared, avoid arrested development by engaging in deliberate practice: Practice with a purpose.

Experts devote more time to practicing weaker skills, exhibit more self-reflection, use more physical and mental effort during practice, and may find practice less enjoyable.

Understanding how expertise is built can improve coaching and teaching strategies.

The challenge of coaching, for example, is “what’s the least amount feedback the learner needs to sustain change in performance?” Williams says. “To infer that learning takes place, I have to see that change in performance contributes to future practices.”

What we learn about how expertise develops in sports can have implications for other fields, including the military, law enforcement, hospital emergency departments, and aviation, William says, all fields where expertise, developed in an often high-stress environment, can mean the difference between a life-or-death outcome.

To learn more about Dr. Mark Williams’ work, check out his book “The Best: How Elite Athletes Are Made.”

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. For more information, visit ihmc.us. 

Architect chosen for human performance research complex project

The planned IHMC human performance research complex will be a home for IHMC’s HRP work.

Progress is continuing on the new building project for IHMC’s Pensacola campus. 

An architect was chosen in March 2022 for the project, which will create a research hub for human healthspan, resilience, and performance work. The winning team was a group of lead locally by DAG Architects, whose principle is Dave Luttrell, in partnership with Brent Amos from Cooper Carry, headquartered in Atlanta.  

DAG is a Northwest Florida firm. Cooper Carry is a national firm with substantial experience in biomedical facilities.  

DAG and Cooper Carry have stepped up to the plate within days of being selected and have been working with IHMC team on an NIH research building funding application. The next step will be soliciting a construction management firm to join the team.  

The new IHMC Healthspan, Resilience and Performance Research Complex will be a leading-edge lab and office building. The projected four-story 44,000 square foot facility will include space for administrative support, outreach and training, in addition to state-of-the-art laboratories for the scientific team. 

It expands IHMC’s downtown campus to three primary buildings and dedicates a space for the center’s research into improving the resilience and performance of people. 

Since IHMC’s founding in 1990, it has built an international reputation for excellence and innovation in robotics and artificial intelligence. The HRP team’s work is focused on improving the performance of elite military members given the stressors they face. But the ultimate applications could be far-reaching, offering substantial healthspan benefits to the general population. 

The goal is for the team to occupy the new building in January 2024. 

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. For more information, visit ihmc.us. 

Jerry Pratt honored with “Most Influential Paper” award

Jerry Pratt

The work that put bipedal robots on their feet came from IHMC — and its key authors were honored by an international conference recently.

The groundbreaking work of IHMC’s Senior Research Scientist Dr. Jerry Pratt was honored at the 20th International Conference for Humanoid Robots virtually in late summer of 2021.

A journal article authored by Pratt with co-authors Sergey Drakunov, Ambarish Goswami, and John Carff, an IHMC senior research associate, was named Most Influential Paper — a distinction spanning the 20-year history of the conference.

“Capture Point: A Step toward Humanoid Push Recovery” has been cited more than 1,000 times since its publication in 2007.

Today, key ideas from this project are the foundation of multiple humanoid robots’ ability to balance and recover from unexpected pushes.

The Capture Point paper has become a critical reference point for the field of bipedal robotics.

Expanding on mathematical models of balance, Pratt and his team developed formulas that allows bipedal robots to identify the area on the ground that they must step or shift to in order to avoid a fall if pushed.

The original paper was demonstrated in simulation, but soon after publication, Dr. Pratt says, IHMC researchers, collaborators, and peers in the field were able to put Capture Point ideas into practice on real robots. The IHMC team and other participants in the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge used Pratt’s findings to enable their robots to navigate the course.

Looking back at the significant impact this groundbreaking paper has had over the years, Dr. Pratt credits the dedication of his coworkers and colleagues and IHMC’s culture of innovation for his success and recent recognition at the 2021 Humanoids conference.

“We knew we were on to a good idea, so we did put a lot of effort into making sure it was high quality,” he says of the paper.

Pratt received the Humanoids Most Influential Paper award virtually this summer. He and colleagues continue to expand upon Capture Point concepts in the lab. He and his team are working to make IHMC’s humanoid robots lighter and more able to approximate the agility of human muscle-actuated limbs.

Senior research scientist joins IHMC team from Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Greg Sawicki

Greg Sawicki is joining IHMC as a senior research scientist with the robotics team.

How can you put the “spring in your step” for an exoskeleton?  

The answer could exploit key principles of locomotion neuromechanics to build wearable devices that improve the economy, stability and agility of human movement.   

It’s something Dr. Gregory Sawicki has been working on at Georgia Institute of Technology. Sawicki is bringing his expertise to the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition as a senior research scientist.  

He joined IHMC in January 2022 on a part-time appointment.  

Sawicki will embed with the robotics, exoskeletons and human robotics interdependence group focusing on two broad areas.  

“One is to help guide current human exoskeleton projects, such as developing exoskeletons for injury mitigation in industrial settings for the (U.S. Department of Energy)  and improving controllers for the Quix Exoskeleton for improving mobility for people with spinal cord injury,” Sawicki said.  

The second is to help expand the research portfolio in human-machine robot interaction by consulting on preparation of new proposals to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense, he said.  

His work at the Physiology of Wearable Robotics (PoWeR) Lab has focused on how the biology behind the power of lower-limb joints can be adapted to robotic devices to help both healthy and impaired people walk better.  

According to their website, The PoWeR lab’s goal is creating lower-limb wearable exoskeletons that are “symbiotic” for the wearer, maximizing the energy needed for assisted walking.   

Sawicki has been working on the design of a portable, passive elastic exoskeleton and clutching mechanism that can provide ‘the spring in your step’ by storage and release of elastic energy in a parallel elastic element worn about the ankle — an exo-tendon of sorts — while walking.  

As part of IHMC, Sawicki maintains his status as associate professor at Georgia Tech, where he splits his time with appointments in both the School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences.  

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of California-Davis. He finished his Ph.D. in human neuromechanics at the University of Michigan at Ann-Arbor. He also worked as a National Institutes of Health-funded post-doctoral Fellow in integrative biology at Brown University. 

Design proposals sought for new IHMC research center

Human performance research at IHMC will find a new home in a planned facility slated to open in early 2024.

A $20 million hub of research into human healthspan, resilience, and performance is moving closer to coming out of the ground. 

The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition has issued a Request for Qualifications for architectural, engineering and construction administration services. This RFQ can be found at https://www.ihmc.us/2022building/ 

Proposals are due Feb. 11. Once finalists are culled from the applications, presentations will be scheduled. A decision is expected by Feb. 28, 2022; construction is expected to begin later this year. 

The new IHMC Healthspan, Resilience and Performance Research Complex will be a leading-edge lab and office building. The projected four-story 44,000 square foot facility will include space for administrative support, outreach and training, in addition to state-of-the-art laboratories for the scientific team. 

It expands IHMC’s downtown campus to three primary buildings and dedicates a space for the center’s research into improving the resilience and performance of people. 

Since IHMC’s founding in 1990, it has built an international reputation for excellence and innovation in robotics and artificial intelligence. 

The HRP Center will extend that reputation for excellence in a new direction and reflects a strategic expansion of the vision of IHMC founder and CEO Ken Ford. 

“IHMC’s international reputation in robotics and artificial intelligence speaks for itself,” Ford says. “Our Healthspan Resilience and Performance team will focus on innovative ways to extend the capabilities and resilience of high-performing humans such as astronauts, fighter pilots, and elite special operators.” 

The HRP team’s work is focused on improving the performance of elite military members given the stressors they face. But the ultimate applications could be far-reaching, offering substantial healthspan benefits to the general population. 

Dr. Marcas Bamman, the senior research scientist who leads the HRP team, sees the center’s work as something that covers “molecules to the whole human.” 

“It’s more than applied science,” he says. “It’s seeing who performs a task well, unraveling the how and why, and taking what we learn to optimize ways of improving each person’s abilities.” 

The goal is for the team to occupy the new building in January 2024. 

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. For more information, visit ihmc.us.