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Enhancing walking ability with low-cost footwear modifications

Summer 2023

Project Background

Recent advances in footwear technology have revolutionized sporting competitions, such as carbon-fiber embedded running shoes that are assisting marathon runners to achieve personal records. While these types of shoes may be advantageous for athletes, there's also great potential for footwear to become an equitable low-cost intervention to assist physical activities, such as walking - in particular, for individuals with mobility-limiting conditions (e.g., aging, stroke, diabetes). Recent research in our lab has shown that shoes integrated with carbon fiber insoles can enhance lower extremity muscle function and reduce physiological energy expenditure in walking, at least in young healthy adults. Such a finding shows great promise for a low-cost intervention for a broader impact beyond athletic competitions. The goal of this project is to test the hypothesis that shoes with carbon fiber insoles, compared to shoes without insoles, can enable faster walking. As a proof of concept, we will test healthy young adults in this project, but the findings of this research will have future applications to inform the efficacy of footwear modifications to improve walking function in people with mobility-limiting conditions.

Student Role

With supervision from the faculty mentor, the student will fabricate custom carbon fiber insoles using simple machining tools. The student will also conduct experiments to examine the effects of carbon fiber shoe insoles on walking ability in healthy young adults. The student will also analyze data and disseminate knowledge through a poster presentation at the OUR Summer Symposium.

Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits

Following completion of this research experience, the student will be able to:

  • Understand and navigate the processes for human subjects research
  • Apply basic concepts in biomechanics, physiology, and engineering to design shoe insoles
  • Analyze and evaluate the impact of shoe insole designs on human walking performance.
  • Evaluate scientific literature related to footwear biomechanics
  • Create new knowledge and disseminate findings through written and oral presentations

These learning outcomes are based on the science-based Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning to help develop cognitive skills to prepare students for a career in science. The student will benefit by being exposed to the scientific inquiry process to promote self-directed discoveries that have a community impact (e.g., improving footwear designs and movement performance for the general public).

Kota Takahashi

Assistant Professor
Health & Kinesiology

Faculty mentor Kota Takahashi will structure the activities to target the learning objectives outlined in the previous section. The goal of the mentoring activities is to expose the student in the scientific inquiry process to become an independent problem-solver. The mentor will meet bi-weekly with the students to allow students to ask questions and make meaningful connections of basic concepts pertinent to the research project. The student will also participate in weekly lab meetings and journal clubs, where students will learn to critically evaluate scientific articles relevant to the research topic. The student will present at the weekly lab meetings as data is being collected so that the student receives constructive feedback from the mentor and more senior graduate students or postdocs. The student will also perform several practice presentations in preparation for the final presentation at the OUR Summer Symposium. In the last 7 years, faculty mentor Dr. Takahashi has developed a strong track record of students receiving nationally competitive fellowships, such as the Barry Goldwater scholarship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and National Institute of Health F31 predoctoral fellowship. Following completion of the research experience, the student will be encouraged to pursue their own scholarship and fellowship opportunities.