Three female high school students examine a leg replica that a college student is showing as part of Biomechanics Day
High school students from Padua Academy learn how human musculoskeletal systems interact with orthotic/prosthetic devices through PhD student Jacob Skigen in the Orthotics & Prosthetics For Enhanced Mobility (OPEn) Laboratory.

Introducing Biomechanics to New Generations

April 16, 2024 Written by Colin Heffinger | Photos by Ashley Larrimore

Biomechanics, a rapidly growing field focused on mechanical function and movement regarding biological systems, has seen increased expansion as new technologies enter the discipline. At the University of Delaware, Delaware high school students had the opportunity to gain valuable exposure to this field through a variety of immersive labs.

On April 15, 95 students from Conrad Schools of Science, Padua Academy, and William Penn High School gathered at UD’s Science Technology and Advanced Research Campus in honor of National Biomechanics Day. A total of 10 available lab demonstrations designed by current graduate students covered the event’s tour to inspire younger generations to consider pursuing a biomechanics career.

A group of high school students observe a college graduate student showcasing how human robotics work
In the Human Robotics Lab, UD PhD student Cody Helm (on the treadmill) demonstrates the role of hip extension angle and push-off force to contribute to faster walking capability while PhD student GilHwan Kim (at the computer) analyzes the results. PhD student Rebecca Nikonowicz is also photographed here standing next to the computer server.

From exoskeleton walking demonstrations to human robotics and motor neuroscience exhibitions, graduate students Hannah Cohen, Sophia Crisomia, and Grace Kellaher were among many to prepare this year’s National Biomechanics Day labs. 

Hannah Cohen, a CHS graduate student in biomedical engineering, led the National Biomechanics Day demonstration for the Human Robotics Laboratory.

Hannah Cohen

A fourth year PhD student in biomedical engineering, Hannah Cohen is exploring new therapies to help stroke survivors walk again. After being exposed to biomechanics in the second year of her undergraduate studies, Cohen realized the field was a perfect opportunity to merge her interest and experience in engineering with her passion to make an impact on health outcomes. She also serves as president of the UD student chapter of the American Society of Biomechanics.

“Biomechanics Day provides an opportunity to introduce younger students to these unique careers before leaping into college,” said Cohen. “It all boils down to exposing students to biomechanics and showing how it can be a great career path. Being exposed to engineering at a young age is what helped lead me to the path I’m on today.”

As one of the graduate students leading a National Biomechanics Day lab, Cohen has designed an interactive demonstration that allows students to see how an exoskeleton can aid walking. Students use the hip-based exoskeleton to walk and learn how leg position impacts movement ability.

“I enjoy giving back to the community and working with younger students,” Cohen explained. “This fulfills my desire to give back and inspire students to pursue careers in science.”

Sophia Crisomia, a CHS graduate student in the Biomechanics and Movement Sciences program, led a demonstration for the Motor Neuroscience and Nueroimaging Laboratory.

Sophia Crisomia

Sophia Crisomia is a second-year master’s student with the Biomechanics and Movement Sciences (BIOMS) program. Crisomia is also a leader in planning biomechanics events as part of the UD student chapter of the American Society of Biomechanics, assisting with coordination of student volunteers and schedule planning. She’s currently affiliated with the Motor Neuroscience and Neuroimaging Lab, which will lead a demonstration on the connection between motor control and Parkinson’s disease.

“For National Biomechanics Day, we developed a strategic schedule that will rotate groups of students in 20-minute intervals across a variety of labs,” Crisomia said. “Our goal is to maximize the types of research students are exposed to and provide a full understanding of the opportunities available to them.”

Crisomia plays a large role in facilitating lab demonstrations and ensuring a consistent schedule. Reflecting on her own career pathway, she explains how her experience in the biomechanics labs has helped her better understand her own priorities.

“After acquiring my undergraduate degree, I wanted to further refine my interests in science, research, and the clinical field,” Crisomia said. “Science and research have created an avenue for me to pursue my passions in education, like with National Biomechanics Day. Today I tutor students and teach two anatomy labs on campus. I’m excited to contribute to equitable knowledge for future students and bridge access to UD research and resources.” 

Grace Kellaher, a CHS graduate student in the Biomechanics and Movement Sciences program, taught students about types of balance for the Falls and Mobility Research Laboratory demonstration.

Grace Kellaher

As a third year PhD student in the Biomechanics and Movement Sciences program who’s been involved in National Biomechanics Day since 2017, Grace Kellaher has been building on her passion towards understanding human health and movement. Working in the Falls and Mobility Research Laboratory, Kellaher will be teaching students about the different types of balance through an interactive demonstration including reactive and standing balances.

“Using a special treadmill designed to intentionally force users to trip, we can show how reactive balance differs across individuals,” said Kellaher. “We also have students engage in a game where they use a balance board to measure how much they sway while standing. This becomes a fun experience where we include input about sports to understand the impact of their balance. We even involve teachers and further boost inspiration through competition.”

These technologies help design a wide range of products and services involved in daily life including movies, gaming animations, footwear, and investigating workplace hazards. Kellaher is determined to continue inspiring younger generations, especially women, to better understand biomechanics as a mentor at the College of Health Sciences.

“There’s so many different facets within biomechanics,” said Kellaher. “You can pursue a career to help athletes enhance their performance, improve rehabilitation protocols for clinical efforts, or use motion capture technology to create movies and game animations. We have endless applications for biomechanics and it’s only continuing to grow.”

A female college graduate student shows a high school student in a wheel chair how motor neuroscience works
Sophia Crisomia, a CHS graduate student with the Biomechanics and Movement Sciences program, introduces a high school student to advanced tools used in the Motor Neuroscience and Neuroimaging Laboratory.

Recognizing the potential of biomechanics

As National Biomechanics Day continues to highlight new pathways for younger students, Jocelyn Hafer, assistant professor of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology (KAAP), works with student leaders to develop new labs and interactions to spread awareness of the field further.

“Graduate students play a critical role in designing these labs each year,” said Hafer. “Not only does it allow high school students to learn about biomechanics, but also graduate students are able to interact with younger learners and develop hands-on experiences to shape understanding for the broader community.”

Three high school students and a teacher examine a rat knee joint
Three high school students and a teacher examine a rat knee joint as part of the Elliot Laboratory.

Looking ahead, the National Biomechanics Day planning team is excited to engage new high schools throughout the First State. They’ve already built the capacity for more schools to attend and foresee the value for high schools throughout the area to fully understand how biomechanics can provide their students with an exciting career path.

“We’re always looking to have more high schools involved in our National Biomechanics Day,” said Hafer. “We have schools that have been coming every year. We’d like to expand our outreach further and continue introducing young students to the incredible careers biomechanics can offer for their future.” 

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