Human Health, Resilience & Performance


Humans operating in high-stress environments face a myriad of challenges that require peak physical and psychological performance. For example, warfighters must achieve mission success and return home uninjured while operating under conditions and circumstances that challenge mental, physical and social abilities. In addition, these same operators must work in extreme conditions, including heat, humidity, wind, cold, underwater, and/or altitude, and be capable of rapidly adapting to challenging and uncertain environments.

IHMC Research Scientists are developing and validating human-centered technologies that measure stress and protect operators from the extremes that negatively impact their performance capabilities and overall resilience. With combined expertise in undersea, high altitude, aviation, space, cognitive, and elite physical performance, these researchers are able to provide a whole-system view of the human response, leading to operationally-relevant strategies for maximizing resilience to high-stress exposures.  The ultimate goal of this research is to maintain the well-being and specialized skillsets of the warfighter and extreme environment operator.

Research on Metabolic Strategies for Optimized Performance and Resilience is motivated by a growing body of evidence pointing to the application of nutritional approaches that provide neuroprotection, maximize energy stores and neuromuscular recovery, and lead to overall resilience. IHMC scientists are investigating the application and optimal regimen of these metabolic strategies for improving cognitive and physical performance, in addition to protecting against potential injury in humans operating in high-stress and extreme environments (e.g., cold water and high altitude).

Multi-Omics Analysis of Human Performance involves objective measurement of the pathophysiological stress incurred by operators undergoing extreme exposures. These investigations serve to elucidate molecular, cellular, tissue and system levels of changes and adaptations associated with corresponding stressors. Genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, microbiomics, and assessment of changes in extracellular RNA, microRNA, and epigenetic markers are being applied to create an intricate and well-informed picture of the underlying mechanisms of response to extreme exposures, which could lead to novel diagnostic and stress mitigation approaches. Machine learning algorithms developed at IHMC will also be utilized to combine multi-system data to identify a full-spectrum picture of the molecular, cellular, physiological, and performance changes associated with extreme exposures.

Research on Brain Physiology in Response to Extreme Environments is critical when developing neuroprotective strategies. IHMC researchers are applying novel technology to create an understanding of eye movement, brain lymphatic function, cerebral blood flow, and brain oxygenation to study how the brain response to extremes such as hypoxia and simulated microgravity. Creating strategies for tracking brain physiological responses and for protecting against detrimental impacts to the brain are the ultimate goal of these investigations.

Developing and validating Aviation-Related Stress Monitoring and Mitigation Strategies is also critically important for extreme operators. Due to the dramatic rise in unexplained physiological episodes (UPEs) experienced across tactical aviation, the United States, Air Force,  and Navy are currently developing and fielding UPE mitigation tools to monitor and manage operational stressors such as hypoxia, hypocapnia, thermal stress, fatigue motion sickness, spatial disorientation, and cognitive workload. Current IHMC projects are addressing these concerns by evaluating performance assessment technology to be used in training and in-flight to detect and control these issues, as well as behavioral techniques to improve physiological function.

The Human Health, Resilience, and Performance Research Team

Research Scientists: Dawn Kernagis, Jeff Phillips, Joe Gomes, Jonathan Clark, Kenneth Ford, Anil Raj, Kristy Hollingshead

Research Associates: Olivia Jackson, Michael McCullough, Michelle Harper-Sciarini, Kody Coleman, Stefanie Martina, Maggie Freyaldenhoven, Connor Tate, Jessica Valek

Visiting Research Scientists: Alex Garbino, Tommy Wood, Dominic D’Agostino