As a child, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut. On February 3, College of Medicine senior Pouya Shooliz served the space agency in a different way – by teaching several hundred NASA employees at Kennedy Space Center about balance and the brain.

On the anniversaries of the Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia disasters, NASA is organizing safety presentations for its workers at the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral. As part of that effort, Shooliz, who wants to specialize in neurology, taught employees how to improve their balance and how the brain analyzes each person’s environment to keep them safe. He said the presentation was an opportunity to live out the tenants of The Good Doctor, a UCF tradition. “After four years of learning in medical school, I can share what I’ve learned, share my passion for the brain and help others,” he said. “It was an honor to help a company in our community.”

The brain doesn’t work in isolation, Shooliz explained. To maintain balance, it relies on the eyes and inner ears to analyze and make sense of the environment, by running a 3D “computer” simulation of the world based on all the inputs it receives. To improve balance, he suggested strengthening the neuronal connections between your inner ear and brain by regularly performing these simple exercises:

  1. Stand on one leg with your eyes closed. In today’s sedentary lifestyle, we’ve developed our eyes more than our inner ears in making sense of the environment, Shooliz said, so the inner ear needs a workout. Standing on one leg with your eyes closed puts your inner ear in charge.
  2. People who move more have a better sense of balance. That’s why past generations had more developed inner ears. As hunters, gatherers and survivors, they were much more active.
  3. Take up yoga and tai chi. Certain yoga movements – especially the more challenging ones – enhance balance. And tai chi has been clinically proven to improve balance and reduce morbidity and mortality by preventing falls.
  4. Practice “tandem walking.” Walk in a straight line, toe to heel, as police do when they are testing a person’s sobriety. Do this walk while moving your head to look left and right. This improves balance.
  5. Use technology. Games and Wii Fit competitions enhance balance.

Shooliz received his Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and focused his Master’s degree on bio-nanotechnology at the University of Oxford in England. He worked with faculty members Drs. Stephen Berman and Michael Bellew, neurology and neurosurgery specialists, on his NASA presentation. It included animations and was so well received that NASA gave him a commemorative coin in thanks.

“It was exciting to see a large roomful of NASA employees at the Kennedy Space Center held in rapt attention as Pouya gave them an informative and entertaining briefing on the neuroscience of balance,” said Dr. Berman. “Given our proximity to the Space Center, there is a great potential for mutual medical and scientific projects with NASA. We are fortunate to have students like Pouya who are eager to communicate their interest in neurology to those around them.”