Science Café Cleveland presents


"Living High"


JANUARY 13, 2014




Cynthia Beall, Ph.D.

Professor of Anthropology

Case Western Reserve University



Heart pounding, chest heaving, head throbbing, feeling like you could not walk another step without risking collapsing. Is that how you felt while gazing out from the summit of Pike’s Peak at 14,000 feet? Or on that skiing trip to Colorado where the peaks are mostly between 10,000 and 14,000 feet? Or maybe even at a Browns’ game in Denver, the Mile-High City?

Ever wondered why you felt that way and how it was that the locals seemed to not be similarly afflicted? If you asked them, they probably reassured you that you would get used to it in time.   The locals informed you correctly:  after a week or two your blood thickens, your breathing slows a bit, and your lung blood pressure remains elevated, and you start to feel  normal again, another sign of the amazing ability of our bodies to adapt to changing environments.

But what is the 'it' they said you would get used to that caused you such discomfort initially? It is the fact that higher altitudes contain fewer oxygen molecules in every breath that you take in. Compared to Cleveland, there are about 40% fewer oxygen molecules in a breath at Pike’s Peak and this results in a situation called hypoxia (low oxygen). 

But some interesting questions arise from this. What exactly is going on during that adaptation process? And are those changes helpful or harmful in the long run? Does this same process happen to everyone, including the 100 million or so people who live permanently above 8,000 feet in the Andes, Tibet, and Ethiopia?

The answer to the last question is equally intriguing: No, it does not.  But why not?  And what is enabling those people to live at such high altitudes?


To hear more, come join Cynthia Beall, a professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University and a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at this cafe. She has devoted her career to studying the people who live on those three high altitude plateaus, trying to find the answers to these very questions.




Acute mountain sickness. MedlinePlus.

Normal acclimatization. International Society for Mountain Medicine (ISMM).

Tibetans Evolved to Survive High Life, Study Says. National Geographic News. May 13, 2010.

Ethiopians and Tibetans Thrive in Thin Air Using Similar Phsyciology, but Different Genes. Science Daily/Science News. December 7, 2012.




WHERE: The Market Garden Brewery

(Located at 1947 West 25th Street next to the West Side Market, Cleveland, Ohio)


WHEN: January 13, 2014

Discussion starts around 7:00 p.m.

*Please Note* A few of our cafes have approached capacity and/or standing room only. If you want to be 100% sure to get in and get a good seat, you might want to arrive a bit early.


WHO: Sponsored by Case Western Reserve University chapter of Sigma Xi, WCPN

ideastream, and the Market Garden Brewery




Click here to download a pdf flyer of the event