For two weeks, Air Force researchers have been pinching, prodding, and scanning a full range of Iowans. They're among the volunteers -- 4,000 Americans and 6,800 Europeans -- in the first large-scale study of the human body in 60 years.
"This is sort of the body of the new millennium, the 21st century," says project manager Kathleen Robinette.
"We'll learn a lot about people's shapes that we didn't know before," she adds.
Robinette says researchers also have a new tool: a computerized full body scanner. In just 17 seconds, the machine waves an electronic magic wand past 72 reference points on the human body. It then creates a three-dimensional computer image of the person's body.
Researchers hope that these realistic 3-D figures will help engineers design everything from cars and tractors to blue jeans.
"In the near future, it's very possible that you could get a scan of yourself, keep it on file, and just maybe send the file of yourself over the Internet and order it personalized in clothing," Robinette says.
While the Air Force is conducting the $6 million study, some 20 corporations are helping to pay for it.
Robinette, for one, wants civilian airlines to use the new information, too. "Hopefully, they'll work on some of the airplane seating, one of my preferences," she says.
Regular height and weight studies have kept track of the growing American population. Now, for the first time, engineers will know precisely how wide and how dense those bodies have become.
Reported By Jacqueline Adams