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JPL scientists succeed in levitating mice

It's the first step in the study of bone loss for astronauts living in low-gravity environments.

September 12, 2009|Reuters

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge have succeeded in levitating mice, a feat that they say could lead to advances in treating bone loss for astronauts living for extended periods in low-gravity environments.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicist Yuanming Liu said in an interview Thursday that the mice were levitated using a device called a no-gravity simulator, which is powered by a superconducting gradient magnet.

"The reason we want to levitate mice is we are aware of the situation that astronauts who stay in microgravity environments long enough might lose some bone mass," Liu said.

"By levitating mice we can simulate similar conditions, and we can study whether bone loss will actually occur in mice, and that will help us understand more about the bone loss that might occur in astronauts," he said.

Liu said that in the second stage of experimentation, the mice will live in the levitator for a week or longer for scientists to see the physical effects.

"We first tried a fully conscious mouse, and he didn't like it very much. He started to spin and got disoriented," Liu said. "Mice like to grab onto something, and so by just floating in the air, it's really different for [the mouse] to adjust to," he said.

A second experiment was conducted with a partly sedated mouse, which was considerably calmer as it floated in the air.

According to a paper published by Liu and his colleagues, under repeated levitation even mice that were not sedated began acting normally inside the cage, eating and drinking while floating.

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