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Leveraging Shoe Modifications to Improve Walking Capacity

Summer 2024

Project Background

In search of a long-thought impossible marathon time, Nike recently integrated carbon fiber plates into their top-of-the-line running shoes, igniting a paradigm shift in shoe manufacturing. Now, nearly every major shoe brand uses a version of these carbon fiber plates in their high-end shoes to help runners achieve personal bests by reducing the energy needed to run. These carbon fiber plates both store and return energy and act as a lever to propel runners with each step, resulting in their muscles footing less of the energetic bill. But these carbon fiber plates have far-reaching implications outside the world of elite athletics. Indeed, recent evidence from our lab indicates that carbon fiber insoles which can easily be inserted into a typical pair of shoes can change the energy required to walk. This project aims to understand the precise mechanisms of how these carbon fiber insoles alter the innerworkings of the human body. This project will therefore pave the way for reducing the energy needs of individuals living with diseases or conditions which render activities of daily living prohibitively expensive energetically, thereby substantially improving their quality of life.

Student Role

The student will learn state-of-the-art techniques that allow us to holistically examine how the body produces efficient movement. Among these techniques, the student will learn at least two of the following:

-3D motion capture: track the movements of body segments as well as estimate the loads experienced by various joints,
-Computational musculoskeletal modeling: simulate how the body's muscles produce motion by incorporating participant-specific body geometry and strength,
-Ultrasound imaging: dynamically measure lower-leg muscles during walking,
-Electromyography: record the electrical activity supplied to various muscles,
-Indirect calorimetry: measure the amount of metabolic energy needed by the body to produce a given movement, crucial to our understanding of how efficient movement is generated.

The student will be directly advised by a Postdoctoral Research Associate (Dr. Danny Davis) with a track record of undergraduate mentoring and high-quality research. Dr. Davis is working on a four-year project in the lab of Dr. Kota Takahashi. There will also be ample opportunity to work alongside and learn from the lab's two PhD students, a fellow Postdoctoral Research Associate (Dr. Jenna Burnett), and Dr. Takahashi himself. This collaborative work environment will include weekly meetings as a group where we will share exciting new ideas, provide research progress updates, discuss journal articles, and practice scientific communication. The student will also take part in weekly events provided by the Office of Undergraduate Research to further gain skills in networking, career development, and scientific communication.

Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits

The student will gain a more in-depth understanding of how an increasingly popular implement, carbon fiber embedded in athletic shoes, influences the human body, helping to push the field of assistive devices forward and improve the lives of countless individuals. Using state-of-the-art technology, the student will peer inside the body to track how muscles are producing force and capture biological signals such that they can measure the energy required by the participants to perform walking tasks. Many of these techniques are used across a wide variety of fields, from clinical exercise physiology to wearable device development. The student will also learn about the research process, from forming a question, developing a protocol, recruiting participants, collecting and analyzing data, and communicating findings. Beyond the benefit this has for a student aiming to embark on an academic research career, this experience will provide insight into how knowledge is generated, practice in critical thinking and problem solving, giving and receiving constructive feedback, effective communication, and analytic skills. Therefore, by the end of the project the student will have attained highly applicable skills which will help them to secure jobs in numerous industries and/or continue in graduate, clinical, or professional education.

Daniel "Danny" Davis

Postdoctoral Research Associate
Health, Kinesiology, and Recreation

Dr. Davis will provide a scaffolding upon which the student will feel safe exploring and expanding the boundaries of their knowledge. Dr. Davis prioritizes his mentee's feeling comfortable being wrong about concepts and asking probing questions to not only acquire new information but to gain experience in posing thoughtful questions and thinking creatively. These activities will be fostered during frequent lab technique training, and in weekly individual meetings. In these meetings, Dr. Davis will provide mentorship on topics previous students indicated as helpful in spring-boarding them to success, including but not limited to:

-Funding opportunities and applying for graduate school,
-Responsible conduct of research,
-Integrating knowledge from journal readings and discussion,
-Best-practices in scientific communication.

Dr. Davis has provided eight years of mentorship to undergraduate students in academic and research settings. He began providing this mentorship as an undergraduate himself, where he served as a teaching assistant and later as a mentor to more junior teaching assistants. Additionally, as an undergraduate researcher, Dr. Davis frequently provided one-on-one training to newer students in research techniques. Throughout his graduate study, Dr. Davis mentored multiple undergraduate and more junior graduate students, guiding them through literature review, protocol development, responsible conduct of research, data analysis, and scientific communication. His experience as both an undergraduate researcher himself and as a peer mentor throughout his career has positioned him to be a particularly effective mentor for this program.