Richmond asleep

Richmond wearing sleep monitor

By Brian Newham

We are now in the midst of another five-day series of tests as part of the White Mars project. We do these tests every 28 days, and because they take about four hours for each of us to go through the process we stagger them over five days.

For those of you who don’t know already, the White Mars project aims to examine the physiological and psychological effects of both acute, intermittent exposure to extreme cold and chronic exposure to loss of the day/night cycle, as well as the stresses of living and working in a small group in a hostile, threatening setting.

Many people have asked us what the tests entail so here is a brief explanation of the most recent process, which we completed this week:

  • For two nights we sleep with a monitor strapped to our forehead which is recording our duration and quality of sleep.
  • On the second evening we do a computer-based memory test which we need to remember for a test the following day.
  • Following the second night we wake and put on a heart rate monitor before rising, and after 10 mins we then get out of bed and repeat the process whilst staying in a calm state.
  • Next is bodyweight (which we do weekly in any event), grip strength and saliva samples.
  • Then we can drink for the first time that day.
  • We then spend the next hour doing a series of computer-based tests. This is a variety of tests which encompasses memory, spatial awareness and reaction times.
  • Next we have a touch-sensitivity test on our hands.
  • Sampling continues with urine, stool, skin and nasal swabs.
  • After that 50ml of blood is taken for a range of six different blood composition experiments.
  • Next comes the skin measurements – various points on arms, legs, waist, hips and back.
  • It is then time to lie down for a body fat measurement using bioelectrical impedance analysis – with various probes which measure the impedance of both muscle and fat.
  • Then we eat.
  • The most difficult test follows in which Echo Cardiography looks at the structure and function of the heart. Unfortunately the equipment is experiencing some problems at the moment so we are spared this test at the moment.
  • Just when we think it is over we have to take urine volume measurements and samples for the next 48hrs.

So, although that is not the whole of the White Mars project it is what we are in the midst of right now.

Sensitivty test

Sensitivity test

Just to keep us busy we have this week also started another series of tests looking at appetite, food intake, activity levels and consequent changes in fitness, strength, bodyweight and body composition. This test lasts for three days and we log all our activity and food intake – we weigh and record absolutely everything that we eat or drink and also complete an appetite questionnaire and activity log throughout the day. It’s all about food versus energy expenditure and for the last three months we have been wearing accelerometers on our waists which record our movements.

We do this three-day regime twice every 28 days and every second test is extended to four days as it also involve a caffeine study. This involves us all taking an unknown caffeine tablet or placebo and then recording our perceived effects in terms of mood and performance.

Please spare a thought for Rob, the only doctor amongst us, who has to conduct all the tests and document all the samples. Rather him than me!

For more details about the White Mars project, visit out our science page on the website (