Humans operating in extreme environments, such as undersea, at high altitude, or in space, face a myriad of challenges that can negatively impact their health and overall physical and psychological performance. Finding ways to protect against these environmental extremes is critical for maximizing the safety and success of individuals working in these unique scenarios. Through stories of personal experiences intertwined with an overview of current research, we will look at the unique challenges humans face when going into environments that push their physiological and psychological limits.
Dawn Kernagis is an IHMC Research Scientist in the area of human performance optimization and risk mitigation for operators in extreme environments. Her team’s current research efforts are funded through several DoD agencies and the NASA Translational Institute for Space Health. Dawn came to IHMC from Duke University Medical Center, where she was an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellow and funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to identify mechanisms and potential therapeutic targets for acute brain injury. She completed her Ph.D. at Duke University as ONR Undersea Medicine’s first Predoctoral Award recipient, and she obtained her B.S. degree in Biochemistry from North Carolina State University. Dawn has also been a diver and manager of numerous underwater exploration, research, and conservation projects around the world since 1993, including the deep underwater exploration of Wakulla Springs and surrounding caves for over a decade. In 2016, Dawn was selected as one of six crew members to live and conduct research while living underwater with NASA’s undersea mission, NEEMO 21. Based on her extensive exploration, mentorship, and experience in diving and in the extreme environment research community, she was selected as an inductee into the Women Divers Hall of Fame and as a Fellow National of The Explorers Club. In 2018, she received the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society’s Young Scientist Award.
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