Why do so many astronauts return to Earth with blurred vision?
That’s precisely the question that Karina Marshall-Goebel ’10 is aiming to answer with her award-winning research on the physiological impact of long-term space travel. She’s now featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Science and Healthcare list for 2017 in Europe. Marshall-Goebel earned her master’s degree at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, and is a PhD Candidate at the University of Cologne in Germany.
At UVM, Marshall-Goebel majored in biology and minored in chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. It was a senior year comparative physiology class that sparked her love of the subject. “Studying the human body and how it functions was absolutely fascinating to me, and I knew immediately that I was hooked,” says Marshall-Goebel. “The freedom to take a variety of biology courses, from forensic biology to marine ecology, allowed me to discover what spoke to me the most and where my passion was.”
She discovered space physiology as her “true calling” during her master’s work. “Understanding how the body works is one thing. Figuring out how the body adapts when you take away gravity is a whole different ballgame,” says Marshall-Goebel. During an internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tex., she further focused on eyesight.
Understanding why vision changes in space, and how we can prevent it, is not just key for a handful of astronauts; it has huge implications for larger-scale human space travel, and colonization of other planets, years down the line. “It’s a high-priority research topic due to the potential to critically affect future exploration class missions. For example, going to Mars,” Marshall-Goebel explains.
The UVM alumna is now starting a postdoctoral research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where she’ll continue to explore vision changes and deformations that occur in astronauts during six month missions on the International Space Station. She’ll also be examining the potential influence that increased CO2 has on astronauts. “You can’t just open the window to get some fresh air up there!” says Marshall-Goebel.
Marshall-Goebel is the second UVM alum to be featured on a Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2017; Kristof Grina ’12 was honored as a 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur for his work as co-founder of rooftop farm network Up Top Acres.