Woman in Good Spirits After Four Months Isolated in Cave
CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) _ A human guinea pig says she made friends with mice and learned some English during her 130 days in an underground cave to help researchers study the effects of isolation.
Stefania Follini of Ancona, Italy, smiled and waved at reporters and well- wishers as she emerged Tuesday afternoon from Lost Cave, ending an experiment that began on Jan. 13.
Would she do it again?
″Sure,″ said the 27-year-old interior decorator, who volunteered for the experiment.
Miss Follini, who lost 17 pounds during her solitude and now weighs 90 pounds, appeared healthy and happy as she answered questions from reporters.
Although she had no contact with humans, except through computers, Miss Follini said she didn’t feel lonely during the experiment and adopted two cave mice as pets. She named them Giuseppe and Nicoleta.
″There was some difficulty in communicating with the mice,″ she said through an interpreter. ″But I was always right.″
The experiment was designed to resemble interplanetary travel. The University of Ancona in Italy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and several U.S. universities took part in the experiment.
Miss Follini’s only contact with the outside world was through computer terminals linked between her 10-foot-square plastic-enclosed underground habitat and the researchers’ house trailer above the cave.
She had no clocks, her menstrual cycle stopped, and she lost track of how many days had passed. When she was told Monday the experiment was almost over, she thought she had been in the cave about 80 days. She tended to sleep about 10 hours and stay awake 20 to 25 hours.
Three video cameras and microphones monitored Miss Follini constantly. Only the bathroom was out of sight of cameras. She said she didn’t mind the lack of privacy.
″I rarely thought about it,″ she said. ″Sometimes I felt it was a strong presence, but generally I was not bothered by that.″
When Miss Follini climbed out of the cave into the midday sun, she appeared disoriented for a few seconds. But she quickly donned sunglasses handed to her, then grinned and waved at the 60 onlookers.
At the news conference, she said she thinks her isolation will make her more thoughtful, outgoing and decisive. And she said her outlook has improved.
″I consider myself more important,″ she said. ″I love myself more and consequently I can love people and the world more.″
Scientists plan to examine her intensively during the next few months to find out if her isolation affected her mentally and physically.
For example, project coordinator Maurizio Montalbini - who spent 210 days in a cave two years ago - believes the isolation will help Miss Follini’s concentration. A NASA-affiliated research team at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston plans to test that Monday by monitoring Miss Follini’s brain waves while she solves computer-generated problems.
Other scientists will be drawing blood and checking her immune system, bones, muscles and coordination. Some believe her immune system was suppressed, her bones lost calcium and her muscles weakened.
But Montalbini said he thinks Miss Follini might surprise researchers. He said she kept her strength and flexibility by doing calisthenics and judo and maintained her poise by keeping busy by reading and decorating her living area.
The researchers chose Lost Cave because it maintains a constant climate of 74 degrees and 99 percent humidity and is relatively close to Houston, home to NASA and many researchers.
Before the experiment began, Miss Follini said she was taking English textbooks with her and would answer questions in English. She did understand simple questions and was able to answer in short English phrases, but she didn’t master the language in 130 days.
″When she was down there, she had English and Spanish books to learn,″ said translator Rita Fraschini. ″But the English one was difficult and boring, so she switched to the Spanish one, which was funny.″