Monday, October 2, 2017

OSCAR Student David Hollinger Researches How Fatigue Hinders Optimal Gait Performance in Runners

Growing up, I always had a natural inclination and fascination towards sports. My life was ingrained with watching, competing, and reading about sports. Once I became more serious in training in distance running, I enjoyed reading the latest running shoe technologies and training plans. During my sophomore year of college I stumbled upon the book, “The Science of Running: How to find your limit and train to maximize your performance,” by Steve Magness. The author is a former professional runner, has coached Olympians, and is considered a public expert in Exercise Science. His experience serves to provide incredible commentary on the constant ‘war’ between coaches and scientists over the debate of optimal training methods. Following the read, I dedicated an Honors College semester project studying how fatigue hinders optimal gait performance in runners. My professor helped me get in contact Dr. Cortes who works at the George Mason SMART Lab for biomechanics and the next semester he invited me to do research with his PhD student which is very similar to my personal URSP project.

As a bioengineering student, my long-term goal is to be able to work at optimizing gait efficiency among lower limb prosthetic patients. The SMART Lab uses Vicon Infrared cameras for 240 frames per second video capturing of subjects hooked up with reflective markers in order to ascertain optimal movements. For graduate school this Fall at Stevens Institute of Technology, I will be working at the Movement Control Rehabilitation (MOCORE) Laboratory which utilizes OptiTrack Motion Capture Cameras in a similar fashion. This lab offers many biomedical engineering focused projects including simulation-based exoskeleton control to rehabilitate gait following neuromuscular dysfunction. According to my Uncle, Dr. Jeffrey O. Hollinger who has worked in bone tissue engineering for over four decades, the robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University is world renown and offers a remarkable research institution for prosthetics research. After obtaining a Masters of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology I may consider attending CMU for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering to further bolster my research knowledge applications in designing and testing prosthetic devices. The demand for robotic assistance among amputees, stroke patients, and paraplegics is very high among military veterans. Working extensively in motion capture research in biomechatronics would allow me to not only satisfy my study of interest, but also contribute to the quality of life for millions of amputees.

Weekly activity varies from week to week. Some weeks we will have three to four test subjects come in which takes about three hours per subject to prepare, test, and analyze (see picture). Some weeks I may give a powerpoint presentation on kinesiology to update the students of the ongoing research at the SMART Lab. For the past couple of weeks, we have been testing out an ultrasound device to be used in a future study which will give visual data on muscle activity during walking. I also took time to research various haptic (vibration) feedback devices for another future study at the lab, comparing the pros and cons of multiple products and communicating to my mentor the benefits of the Tactor Development Kit that we ended up purchasing. Even though my URSP project focuses on gait analysis of asymptomatic patients, I am still spending time contributing to the lab on their future studies when actual knee osteoarthritis patients will be tested.

One thing I learned was to not let the culture of the lab bring down my motivation. Since a majority of the PhD students working on the study have other commitments, it is easy to want to put in less effort because after all “Why should an undergraduate contribute more to a study than a PhD student?” On second thought, I realize I should always give my best effort regardless of the attitudes of my teammates. Although more may be expected from PhD students, my expectation to work hard and contribute the best I can is what I learned to focus on.