THE DENSITY OF BONE: Visiting Biologist Patrick Lau in his office and laboratory at DLR Campus

After passing passport control at the campus’ gates, it is building 24 on the DLR area. A large place, almost like a little town in the suburbs of Cologne, located in a wood. Not many know that it is the home of the German Aerospace Center DLR, as well as the European Space Agency ESA.

Every astronaut heading for outer space has to come here. Frank de Winne, Belgium commander of the international space station ISS, called it “the Houston of Europe.”

But there is more than just space travelling. There is research in progress. Often influenced by space travelling.

At building 24, biologist Patrick Lau works in a team of doctors, engineers and psychologists. Researching on the density of human bones. The loss and growing of cells. Most of the time in balance, disorders can affect the continous process. Also being in outer space can prevent the bone from growing and stabilizing. An astronaut’s problem.

There are various counter measures,” says Lau. Such as healthy food and sports. But there is not much of both on a space station. And the process of losing cells cannot be stopped completely.

The biological institute at the DLR campus, located just across the street from the main training center for astronauts, hosts a large archive of human cells. Placed in a bath of liquid and very cold nitrogen. “It is a treasure you cannot recreate,” states Lau.

A few floors below Patrick Lau enters his diagnostic room in the building, built in the 1970s. This is the place where all European astronauts undergo various tests. A so called Peripher-CT, a computer tomograph, scans the arm’s and leg’s bones. “They have to sit still for one hour. Otherwise the image is blurred,” explains the biologist.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst has been here for various times. Before and after his space travels. “He was very fit after being on the ISS,” reveals Patrick Lau. Other space travellers are usually more exhausted.

Off to the next building. Via a futuristic and light green tunnel underground, Patrick Lau crosses the street. Enters the new “:envihab” laboratoy. Opened in 2014, it hosts various palces for further research. Such as a sleep laboratory to research the effects of 60 days of bed rest. Just next door: a centrifuge.


I haven’t done it myself, yet,” says Lau, standing next to the centrifuge that can create the sixfold of earth’s pull. The faster it turns, the more the traveller feels like he is standing up – which is not the case. “You should better not turn your head then,” says one of Lau’s co-workers.

Many people just do not know what we are doing here,” Patrick Lau states. “Would you think a biologist like me works here?” The more so he wants to show how special and diverse his work place is. “I want to thrill people with that. Especially young people.” Something that worked well for himself. Still studying at Bonn University, he already worked as an intern on the DLR campus.

(reported by Lars Göllnitz)

More about that:
DLR website
ESA website