When Harish Chander joined the Mississippi State Department of Kinesiology in 2014, he got the keys to a former classroom in McCarthy Gymnasium. The space was mostly empty, but full of potential for a laboratory that would generate new knowledge of neuromechanics—a science that combines neurology and biomechanics to explain human movement.
Today, the space is filled with state-of-the-art biomechanics equipment and students of all levels conducting research that will help reduce falls in the workplace and with the elderly, identify potential workplace safety hazards, improve athletic performance, and help children with special needs improve their movement patterns.
When a person slips or falls, some broad details of what caused the incident are immediately known, like whether the surface was slick or a step was missed. It’s the small details of what happens before and during a fall that interest MSU Neuromechanics Laboratory researchers.
To have a comprehensive analysis, they use a 3D motion capture system. It’s the same concept used by Hollywood studios to bring action heroes to life in movies like “The Avengers.” While the studios animate the captured movement for cinematic feats, researchers at Mississippi State use their recorded images to study how the body responds to different environments and falls.
In the lab, researchers use glycerol to create a slippery environment similar to what workers might see in a restaurant, food processing facility, automotive shop or other environments. They then have test subjects walk and move on that slick surface with and without knowledge of the environment to examine how the body responds to those conditions over time.
The MSU researchers are also using digital environments for study. The lab recently acquired virtual reality equipment that is being used to virtually place people in settings such as roofing and construction sites and could be incorporated into training for companies.