Why did you choose your field of study?
I have always been interested in how the body works, particularly movement mechanics. As a collegiate swimmer, I loved thinking about technique and how the slightest adjustment of a hand could make a stroke more or less efficient or powerful. I naturally gravitated towards biomechanics and my interest grew into clinical realms and how to help people with injuries and diseases. My research evolved to studying gait with applications toward improving clinical care and optimizing performance in prosthetics, rehabilitation, orthopaedics, sports, and military settings.
Could you give an example of a problem your research is focusing on?
One challenge we are researching is how to optimize human-exoskeleton teaming. We are working to improve how powered exoskeletons adapt to and predict a person's movement needs as well as how people adapt to wearing exoskeletons. While exoskeleton controllers are able to predict and apply appropriate assistance (e.g., torque generation at the proper time) for a repetitive, consistent task like walking on level ground at a constant speed, it becomes very difficult to do this well if a person needs to change speeds, walk on uneven terrain, or move variably. If the timing of the torque application is off, a person will fight against the exoskeleton and performance will suffer or they will reject its use. People also need to adapt to wearing an exoskeleton and accommodate to its assistance before they embody it. Some people are able to do this quickly while others take longer or are unable to fully adapt. Understanding these phenomena will facilitate the design of flexible exoskeleton control architectures and inform the development of training methodologies.
What aspects of your work do you take the most pride in?
I take a lot of pride in working at a research center with unique capabilities that very few places in the world can match. I'm also incredibly lucky to work with an amazing team of people who are always willing to push the boundaries of possibilities, love to problem solve, and quickly turn questions into data-driven results.
Where have you traveled before, and where would you like to visit?
I have been fortunate to travel to more than 40 countries, and on two separate occasions I have taken a full year off to travel. The world is a wonderfully diverse and amazing place! I've never been to Africa, and I would love to travel throughout the continent, but I am particularly interested in visiting Madagascar.