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Welcome to

 The University of North Carolina at Pembroke


Robeson Community College


Microgravity Research Team site


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The proposal for the 2012-13 year will be investigating


The Effects of Gravity on the Cori Cycle



With the increased duration of space flights and the continual habitation of the International Space Station, the human body is put under new and unexplored stresses. Although there has been significant research conducted to investigate the effects of microgravity on human biological mechanisms (Stein, 2005 and references within), there has been very little research conducted to better understand the effects of microgravity on the Cori cycle (Woodman, 2009; Inobe, 2002). The Cori cycle is important because it is responsible for producing the energy needed to allow muscular activity. Muscle activity requires energy, which means that glycogen is broken down to glucose via glycogenesis (Wickman). After glycogenesis, the resulting glucose is fed into glycolysis, which is the process that actually makes energy, or Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), for your skeletal muscles to use. During muscular activity, glycolysis occurs constantly and ATP is constantly replenished (Elmhurst, 2003). Glycolysis can occur aerobically or anaerobically. When oxygen is not present, such as during intense muscular activity, ATP is formed through the conversion of pyruvate to lactate. The lactate produced by anaerobic glycolysis is taken to the liver where it is converted back to glucose and the process starts again (Romano, 1996).  This process is shown schematically in figure 1a.  Part of this critical process is lactic fermentation, figure 1b.  In lactic fermentation pyruvate is converted to lactate, which consumes Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH) and NAD+ is released. It should be noted that the NAD+ is essential for glycolysis to continue to occur, thereby to obtain energy through the consumption of sugars.   To summarize, the process serves to regenerate NAD+ so that glycolysis can continue to occur in the absence of O2, as glycolysis is the process that will produce ATP (Nelson, 2004).


The majority of a human’s life is lived in a gravitational pull of 1-g whereas an astronaut, in orbit around the Earth, can experience extended periods of reduced gravitational pull. Does the change in gravity experienced by the human body affect some of its most basic functions, such as the Cori cycle?  The main focus of our research is to understand the effects that a reduced gravitational field (0-g) has on the reaction rate of pyruvate to lactate during anaerobic glycolysis. We believe that in a reduced gravitational field the conversion rate of pyruvate to lactate will be lowered in comparison to the rate measured in 1-g.  In the human body, a reduction in this reaction rate results in a decrease in the energy available for skeletal muscular activity and could adversely affect an astronaut’s Text Box:        
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Fig. 1 (a) Cartoon schematic showing the Cori cycle.  (b) A key part of the Cori cycle is the conversion of pyruvate to lactate, as shown in the diagram of the lactic fermentation process.  Of interest to this project is the consumption of NADH during the process, which can be easily measured via absorption spectrometry.
























The 2012-13 Weightless Lumbees



From left to right: Tiffany Scott (UNCP-Chemistry),  Molly Musselwhite (UNCP-Biology), Alex Mitchell (UNCP-Chemistry), Candace Langston (UNCP-Sports Science)

Crystal Oxendine-Jerald (not shown, RCC-Electronics)




Past Outreach Activities

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Clint Haywood discussing some of the Weightless Lumbees

outreach experiments NC Museum of Natural Science




Tamra Henderson and Lindsay Willis working with children as part of National Chemistry day at the

NC Museum of Natural Science

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Branyun Bullard educates the crowd as part of National Chemistry day at the NC Museum of Natural Science

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Branyun Bullard explaining the concept of density to some future Weightless Lumbees

NC Museum of Natural Science





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Lane Guyton explains microgravity at the kids level while Tamra Henderson and Lindsay Willis

help the children make some of their own density demonstrators

NC Museum of Natural Science




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UNCP Team Advisor, Dr. Tim Ritter,

presenting at Cherokee High School


Past Team Pictures (2005-2006)



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The inside of the Aircraft
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The Parabola formed by the plane as it goes in and out of 0-gravity
















NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program is designed to inspire students’ interest in science, engineering and technology.  The program provides select undergraduate student teams, from around the country, the opportunity to successfully propose, design, fabricate, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment of their choice on board the famous reduced gravity aircraft.  The overall experience includes scientific research, hands-on experimental design, test operations and educational/public outreach activities. The reduced gravity aircraft generally flies 30 parabolic maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico. This parabolic pattern provides about 30 seconds of hypergravity (1.8g) as the plane climbs to the top of the parabola. Once the plane starts to “nose over” the top of the parabola to descend toward Earth, the plane experiences about 25 seconds of microgravity (0g).




Pictures from previous years (2002-05)

Preparation for flight at UNCP (2003-2004)

Outreach from previous years (2002-2005)


Video clip showing a candle flame in zero gravity.

Candle Flame in Zero-g


Movie clip showing the effects of gravity on mixing fluids.  The clear fluid is water and the yellow fluid is cooking oil.
Fluid Mixing experiment


Movie clip from on board the C-9.  This clip shows a steel ball falling (actually NOT falling!) through a viscous fluid in 0-g

Ball Drop 0-g


And the same experiment performed during the 2-g portion of the flight

Ball Drop 2-g

The outreach presentation that we use when visiting schools and community groups (large file, please be patient).

Check out our infomational brochure (requires acrobat reader).


A complete overview of the Reduced Gravity Student Opportunities Program can be found at the following site:  RGSFOP



The counties across North Carolina in which The Weightless Lumbees have presented their outreach message





The states across the U.S. in which The Weightless Lumbees have presented their outreach message






The countries in which The Weightless Lumbees have presented their outreach message










Please revisit our site for regular updates to include pictures from the latest trip to Houston, more outreach program details, and general program information.  Until then, if you require additional information, please feel free to contact one the students or the faculty advisor, Dr. Tim Ritter at