Grant funds biomechanics lab

Bodies in motion: Grant funds biomechanics lab

Dordt College has been awarded a $130,800 grant from the Roy Carver Charitable Trust that will help fund a state-of-the-art Motion Biomechanics Laboratory in which students can record and analyze the forces and motions associated with human movements.

The laboratory facility will consist of an array of cameras and markers that allow students to track the three-dimensional spatial position of a person or object over time. “Think recording Andy Serkis’ movement to animate Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies,” says Dr. Kayt Frisch, the engineering faculty member who will be most involved with the laboratory.

The laboratory will also include a force plate. “Think of a highly sensitive bathroom scale that records forces and movements in three directions—front to back, left to right, up and down,” says Frisch. (A bathroom scale measures only the up-and-down direction.)

“Combine these two pieces of equipment and you have the ability to infer a lot about the forces acting on body joints, like your ankle or knee,” she says.

The lab will be used extensively in two of Frisch’s courses and in her research.

Engineering students in her biomechanics course will use the lab to learn how a person’s movements create forces on the body. They will also investigate how changing the conditions of movement—for example, wearing a backpack, running barefoot, or walking in high-heeled shoes—affect the forces on knees.

The physics course taken by pre-health and construction management students will also use the lab for observing, measuring, and predicting forces and motion. Last year’s class tackled questions such as “How does running on different surfaces affect the force on the leg at landing?” and “How does foot placement affect the initial velocity of a kicked soccer ball?”

“This is a very accessible topic for students because they have lots of experience with movement,” Frisch says. “Previous projects have been hampered by an inability to collect meaningful data. This lab will provide resources for answering those real-world questions students are curious about.”

The lab will expand the collaborative research Frisch is doing with Volleyball Coach Chad Hanson, Strength and Conditioning Coach Adam Conway, and Athletic Trainer Chris Fagerness, studying the forces and motion involved in hitting a volleyball and how they affect shoulder injuries in volleyball players. It will also open up opportunities to mentor students doing undergraduate research in biomechanics.

Students from a variety of majors will benefit from the lab.

“This opens up a new and exciting world of possibilities in animated computer graphics,” says Digital Media Professor Mark Volkers. “This massive tool will let us create things we couldn’t before. Most large schools don’t even have such capabilities.”

Engineering, exercise science, biology, physiology, statistics, art, and digital media students will all benefit, says Frisch.

“Systems like these are typically found in research labs, gait analysis clinics, and animation studios, so having a motion biomechanics lab on campus will create unique opportunities for Dordt students to learn to use technology they wouldn’t otherwise see until they enter the professional world,” says Frisch.

The Motion Biomechanics Laboratory will be ready for use this fall.

Sally Jongsma