By Paul DeVita, PhD, and Friends
Community engagement, the collaboration between university and community groups, strengthens the connections and the cooperation between these groups. It enables university faculty and students to enhance the quality of life in the community by bringing their knowledge and skills to the general population and it enables community members to enlighten university personnel about the modern directions in which communities are evolving and their current needs to successfully evolve. National Biomechanics Day (NBD) is community engagement that introduces biomechanics to high school students and so broadens the community’s perspective about the science of human movement and more importantly, about careers within both biomechanics science and biomechanics application. Noteworthy today for example is the rapidly growing application of biomechanics in professional sports, such as baseball and major league teams hiring biomechanists to work with their players to improve performance and reduce injury risk.
NBD has successfully introduced biomechanics to over 32,000 high school students through 400 biomechanics events around the world over the past 6 years. NBD events involve many people including university faculty and staff, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as high school students, their teachers and parents. All have important roles in a successful NBD and here we present the perspectives of the graduate students who are the heart of NBD events. They demonstrate biomechanics to the visiting high schoolers, relate to the high schoolers because of their similar ages, and inspire the high schoolers to enter college and consider training in biomechanics. Here are biomechanics graduate students from the United States, Australia, Brazil, and New Zealand. In reading these vignettes, we think you’ll see the far-ranging passions that drive NBD: Biomechanics, the Breakthrough Science of the 21st Century! And we hope you’ll consider joining us.
Doctoral candidate at University of Delaware’s interdisciplinary Biomechanics and Movement Science program
Movement is incredibly complex, adaptive, and puzzling. No single scientific focus can explain how everything works, so biomechanics found a way to be more. Biomechanics gathers individuals from different backgrounds–physical therapists, engineers, fashion designers, statisticians, athletic trainers, zoologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, exercise scientists, public policy makers, and more–and helps them work together to find innovative solutions to intricate challenges.
My own academic path highlights some of the range of opportunities biomechanics offers that allow individuals to pursue personal curiosities. I started out analyzing collegiate distance runners’ mechanics using laboratory motioncapture equipment. I worked with USA Track and Field for a few years analyzing professional steeplechase performance with high-speed cameras during competitions. I partnered with a group of engineers, statisticians, and exercise scientists doing development and testing for a new product to measure forces in football helmets and athletic shoes. I completed dynamic balance assessments for children with and without cerebral palsy. I explored how adults maintain stability to protect against falling. The only prerequisite to each opportunity was the willingness to learn new things. Biomechanics is inventive and collaborative, and that is what attracted me to biomechanics and keeps me coming back for more.
National Biomechanics Day is an incredible event that showcases the exciting range this field has to offer. NBD is a chance for students to get a glimpse of biomechanics. There is a place within biomechanics for individuals from different backgrounds to chase their interests and flourish. NBD is also an opening for hosts to introduce eager minds to new applications of their intellect. It has been rewarding to interact with NBD participants who start with no prior understanding of biomechanics and see them walk away with personal questions and the beginnings of the tools to answer them. Biomechanics welcomes all to use its tools to answer questions about movement. Whether you’re interested in how people walk or athletes perform, how animals climb or catch prey, or how machines adapt to new information or interface with the body, biomechanics is where answers are being sought and found. Someone’s path will start at the next National Biomechanics Day.
Doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt Unviersity’s Center for Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology
My first exposure to biomechanics was in tenth grade when female engineering students from The Ohio State University (OSU) visited my class and presented on their engineering majors. The presentation on biomedical engineering completely captivated me as the student described using math and science to improve healthcare and answer questions about human biology. Later that year, I utilized an assignment to shadow a local professional to ask Ajit Chaudhari, PhD, if I could visit his biomechanics research lab at OSU for a day. This visit exceeded my expectations. I found amazing technology, like force plates and motion-capture cameras, but more importantly, I found people like me–people with an insatiable curiosity to understand how the human body moves. This early exposure to biomechanics ultimately inspired me to attend OSU, major in Biomedical Engineering, and join Chaudhari’s lab as a research assistant. During my undergraduate career, I was able to explore the world of sports biomechanics while contributing to projects studying core stability in runners and ankle instability. This experience confirmed my desire to pursue a career in biomechanics research, but I was curious to learn about other areas in this field. This led me to purse graduate studies at Vanderbilt University in the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology. Here, my focus is lower-limb prosthetics research providing me the opportunity to explore another meaningful area of biomechanics.
Because my introduction to biomechanics came through an event at my high school and then through visiting a local biomechanics research lab, I personally understand the impact that exposure to biomechanics can have on the future trajectory of young students. My personal journey has contributed to my passion and excitement for biomechanics outreach events, such as National Biomechanics Day. Through various interactions with K-12 students across multiple outreach events, I’ve had the opportunity to enthusiastically explain why I love combining science and math to understand the world around me. These events always reignite my love for this field and improve my ability to explain complicated topics. It is exciting that through outreach events I can perpetuate the early exposure to engineering and biomechanics that I had the privilege of experiencing and, hopefully, also inspire the next generation of innovators to pursue a future in science, math, and maybe even biomechanics!
PhD, postdoctoral research fellow at the Adelaide Spinal Research Group, University of Adelaide
Throughout my schooling I enjoyed mathematics and physics, and I had a very keen interest in sports and human movement, so a career related to biomechanics always seemed likely. However, my university of preference (The University of Adelaide) did not offer a Biomechanical Engineering degree (or similar). So, I enrolled in a brand-new degree that was being offered for only the second year, a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical and Sports). This degree comprised all of the core Mechanical Engineering subjects and was supplemented with various health science courses (eg, anatomy, physiology). Toward the end of the third year, I was considering a change in direction, as I wasn’t getting enough of a biomechanics fix from this degree. However, during one of the final lectures for the year, we were treated to a guest lecture from Claire Jones, PhD. Jones had recently completed her PhD at the Orthopaedic and Injury Biomechanics Group, University of British Columbia, and had taken a job as the Senior Biomedical Engineer at the Adelaide Centre for Spinal Research. She spoke about the injury biomechanics research projects she had been involved in at UBC, including preclinical models of spinal cord injury and cadaver head-neck impact experiments, as well as the projects she would be assisting with in her new role in Adelaide. I was not previously aware that this area of biomechanics-related work even existed, and I was immediately intrigued! It combined my long-term interest in biomechanics with the design and build, computer programming, and data analysis aspects of Mechanical Engineering that I had thoroughly enjoyed so far in my degree. After that lecture, I contacted Jones to express my interest in doing work placement over the summer, and since then (11 years!) she has supervised my Honours project, my PhD, and now my postdoctoral position. In this time, I have worked across an extremely wide range of biomechanics and biomedical-related projects; from taking real-time measurements of spinal cord CSF pressure in live sheep, to building a drop tower to measure the impact response of human cadaver heads and necks, to designing an instrumented mannequin neck that can provide real-time feedback on head and neck motion during paramedic training, just to name a few. There are so many different aspects of biomechanics that anyone with an interest in the STEM and/or health fields can find a fulfilling area of work!
Karine JV Stoelben
Doctoral candidate at Federal University of Pampa, Brazil
National Biomechanics Day (NBD) is a fantastic opportunity to bring the attention of high school students to the multidisciplinary pattern of biomechanics. I was inspired by the NBD idea when I received the invitation to join the NBD 2017. My masters’ supervisor at that time in the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil forwarded an email invitation to organize the event at our laboratory. My instant reply was: “Yes, we must develop this new experiment here.” I was so enthusiastic about the NBD event because I only had the opportunity to learn about biomechanics when I was an undergraduate student and was helping a classmate in the development of a biomechanics research project. I subsequently led the organization of 2 NBD events while studying in Santa Maria.
The NBD events helped me realize how much the students love the activities and can understand the wide applicability of biomechanics in their daily lives when they have the opportunity to visit the biomechanics lab. We observed that when students understand the concepts we explained, they quickly understand, connect the examples with their studies, and ask related questions. This experience was gratifying and also helped me to further develop my skills related to public speaking and how to explain complex concepts.
Later, during my PhD program at the Federal University of Pampa in Brazil, I got involved with NBD activities again in 2021. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we promoted an online event. This new format was challenging for me to provide a biomechanics experience through a screen vision, and not using our lab facilities was tricky. While organizing and managing NBD events, I noticed that anyone can develop a passion for biomechanics. However, what is missing to have more people falling in love with biomechanics is the opportunity to learn about general applications and see biomechanics’ daily use, as NBD promotes worldwide. Finally, I realized we can take advantage of NBD to successfully provide real biomechanics experiences for students attending our events. Even though they may not come to the biomechanics area, they certainly will look at daily applications differently and will better understand the importance of science and the importance of Biomechanics, the Breakthrough Science of the 21st Century!
Doctoral candidate at University of Waikato, Te Huataki Waiora School of Health, New Zealand
“Grateful” is how I described my experience in the “National Biomechanics Day” event. As an international PhD student at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, this is one of the highlights of my student life. Despite the current health concerns that we are experiencing, our team was able to execute what we had planned for the event. I was fortunate to be part of the working committee and be mentored by one of the best in the field, Kim Hébert-Losier, BSC, PT, PhD. It was a learning experience as I was able to see how they (the working committee) work and be inspired by each team member’s dedication, commitment, and passion. The event was a fun-filled and informative experience for all the student participants, and they were enthusiastic and curious to try all the activities. For us, it was a great feeling, and we were happy to achieve our goal of at least 50% of women participation supported through a NBD outreach grant.
NBD, by its vision and mission, helps me understand and appreciate my role and purpose as an educator, clinician, and aspiring researcher. It is a reminder of my commitment to the field—to support and convey the importance of biomechanics, especially to the younger generation. As part of my long-term plan, I hope to see the Philippines be part of this worldwide event and help achieve the purpose of National Biomechanics Day and become active synergists in this chain of human movement advocacy.
Paul DeVita, PhD, is director of the Biomechanics Laboratory and professor of kinesiology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. He is past-president of the American Society of Biomechanics and a leader in The Biomechanics Initiative which hosts National Biomechanics Day.