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July 15, 2011 / Dr. Toad

Recommended this weekend — and more

Saturday, July 16 is the 8th annual Northwest Solar Fest — a renewable energy fair at the Shoreline Community College, 10am–6pm, with music, food and beer garden open until 8pm.

Featuring demos of plastic to oil systems, electric car displays, mini farmer’s market, zero energy house interactive tours, and more. Kid zone and mini solar cars free for the first 300 kids. Metro routes #330, 331, 345 serve the college on Saturdays.

Also this weekend, on Sunday, July 17th, guided walks in the Arboretum, 11am and 1pm.

Me, I’ll be in the Olympic Mountains, despite an iffy weather forecast. So here’s a related new scientific development (via New Scientist). Emma Ross of the University of Brighton, UK, and colleagues compared the amount of force people could generate voluntarily and involuntarily (through direct noninvasive stimulation of the motor cortex) at normal oxygen levels and at different levels of hypoxia, as can be found at high altitude. They already knew that the brain contributes over one quarter of the loss in force with repeated exercise in sea-level air. Basically, the motor cortex sends suboptimal signals down to the muscles. But they found out that at high altitude, with severe hypoxia, the brain’s contribution to fatigue rises to over 50%. It seems that the brain limits the amount of work that the unacclimatized body can do, perhaps in order to prevent total and sudden failure. (Journal of Applied Physiology, DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00458.2010)

Olympic Mountains in the winter, seen from the East

Olympic Mountains in the winter, seen from Port Orchard, WA -- photo by M. Lounsbery

Luckily for me, the Olympic Mountains aren’t too high — we’re going to be climbing to less than 7,000 ft. And so it will be mostly feeble muscles rather than cautious brain that will make it hard work.

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2 Comments

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  1. Ben / Jul 19 2011 9:34 am

    That’s really interesting! So “giving 110%” may mean giving 83% or even 55% depending on altitude. Nice to know our bodies build in some margin for error. Perhaps this also relates to the phenomenon of people having extraordinary strength in life-or-death circumstances.

    • Dr. Toad / Jul 25 2011 6:30 pm

      I wonder if it does (relate to extraordinary strength in life-or-death circumstances). Some sort of mechanism that puts more limits on what you can do at any given moment when long-term survival (like in a state of hypoxia) is at stake vs. breaks all limits when immediate survival (like when a car’s about to hit) is at stake for an all-out immediate effort. Would make sense.

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