Alexander Stahn






University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


Alexander C. Stahn is an Assistant Professor in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He obtained his under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate degrees from Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, after which her worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town,  from 2003 to 2005. In 2008 he obtained his doc­toral degree at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany. He then assumed the posi­tion as a Research Associate at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany, where he was awarded a Young Investigator Grant (YIG) to set up an inde­pen­dent research group in study­ing the effects of exer­cise on cog­ni­tion and brain plas­tic­ity. In 2009 he returned to Charité to work as a Research Associate at Charité, where he was pro­moted to Deputy Laboratory Head at the Center for Space Medicine and Extreme Environments in 2014. In August 2016 he was appointed Assistant Professor of Medical Science in Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (USA). His pri­mary research focuses on the effects of envi­ron­men­tal stres­sors on hip­pocam­pal plas­tic­ity and spa­tial cognition.

Research focus

  • Effects of space­flight and envi­ron­men­tal stres­sors (e.g., social iso­la­tion) on brain changes, cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and mental well-being
  • Hippocampal plas­tic­ity and spa­tial cog­ni­tion in extreme environments
  • Effectiveness of pre­ven­tive mea­sures to mit­i­gate neg­a­tive neu­robe­hav­ioral risks during spaceflight
  • Applying knowl­edge from space med­i­cine to aging research on Earth


Awedyssey: VR for pro­mo­ting and enhancing well-being

We are investigating and creating a new virtual reality (VR) experience, 'Awedyssey', for the promotion and enhancement of well-being. Today, digital technology pervasively intersects with our daily lives, and VR stands out as a digital tool capable of fostering adaptive coping and resilience skills, and authentic social connection. We welcome queries from potential collaborators and members of...

SIRIUS - Virtual Earthgazing to mitigate effects of sensory isolation

SIRIUS (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) is a series of on-land isolation experiments modelling long-term spaceflight in order to assess the psychophysiological effects of isolation on a crew and prepare for long-duration spaceflights, such as a trip to Mars. An 8-month-long isolation study commenced in Moscow on Nov 4th, 2021, where a crew of 6 people (from Roscosm...


Stahn, A. C., Basner, M., Riecke, B. E., Hartley, T., Wolbers, T., Brauns, K., Friedl-Werner, A., Denise, P., Besnard, S., Gunga, H. C., Dinges, D. F., Stangl, M., & Kühn, S. (2021). Hypocampus in I1YMP: spatial cognition and hippocampal plasticity during long-duration low-earth orbit missions [Presentation]. NASA HRP IWS 2021 meeting.
Stepanova, E. R., Brauns, K., Friedl-Werner, A., Miller, N., Desnoyers-Stewart, J., Adhikari, A., Riecke, B. E., & Stahn, A. C. (2022). A Neurophenomenological Approach to Better Understand the Effects of Eliciting Positive Experiences in Virtual Reality [Poster]. Phenomenological Methods in Neuroscience and Consciousness Research workshop, University of Zürich.
Miller, N., Stepanova, E. R., Desnoyers-Stewart, J., Adhikari, A., Kitson, A., Pennefather, P., Quesnel, D., Brauns, K., Friedl-Werner, A., Stahn, A., & Riecke, B. E. (2023). Awedyssey: Design Tensions in Eliciting Self-transcendent Emotions in Virtual Reality to Support Mental Well-being and Connection. Proceedings of the 2023 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference, 189–211.