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Queen Mary student wins award for space medicine research

A fourth year medical student at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, has won an award for presentation of her intercalated MSc project at the Physiological Society's annual Future Physiology conference.

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Nina at the European Space Agency's Columbus Control Centre
Nina at the European Space Agency's Columbus Control Centre

Nina Purvis won a Rob Clarke Gold Award for best presentation of a BSc or MSc project with her project on preparedness for surgical emergencies during Mars missions. The Rob Clarke Awards are in honour of Rob Clarke who was a trustee of The Physiological Society and a keen teacher and supporter of students.

On receiving the award, Nina said: “I'm so grateful that the Future Physiology organising committee were proactive in taking this yearly conference online, allowing all career levels to still present and network. We had to create an online 'stack', consisting of our abstract, poster, presentation and bio, and presented this four times. All the effort paid off, and hopefully I get to return next year with data from my dissertation that I’m completing this summer!”

For her presentation, Nina carried out an academic literature review to see how prepared we are to deal with a surgical emergency during a mission to Mars. This covered topics including robotic surgery, surgical enclosure design, fluid dynamics of blood, and how to test surgical techniques in microgravity analogues like parabolic flights.

Nina, who is also VP of the Barts and The London Aerospace Medicine Society, explains: “The extreme environment faced during transit to and on Mars includes micro- and partial gravity, high radiation levels, and an enclosed pressurised cabin. Because of the time spent in this extreme environment, an injured or unwell astronaut will already be at a physiological disadvantage.

“There are also implications for resource management in surgical care on Earth too, as you can only take so much with you and need to make technologies as small as possible to take on a rocket.”

More information

  • Read Nina’s article in The Independent: ‘From surgical robots to 3D printers, this is how to do surgery in space’
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