In vitro biomechanics experiments are often 1D/2D tests at non-physiologic speeds, which does not recreate in vivo loads, and in silico models rely on soft tissue and joint contact assumptions. This severely limits translation of laboratory findings into clinical practice. Robotic systems can recreate 3D human motion using cadavers to test pathology, surgical interventions, and implant designs under physiologically relevant conditions. The objective of this project is to contribute to the development of a high-speed robotic foot and ankle simulator driven with subject-specific in vivo kinematics, integrated muscle actuators, and ground reaction force feedback. Experiments on ankle fusion procedures will be a test case for future exploration of other surgeries and simulators to inform clinical care.
Dr. Lenz is a Research Instructor in the Department of Orthopaedics. She is an expert in foot and ankle medical imaging and computational modeling. The undergraduate student on this project will be mentored directly by Dr. Lenz and work closely with the members of the Orthopaedic Research Laboratory Lenz Research Group. The undergraduate will be part of each portion of this study, from interacting with cadaver specimen preparation in our University Orthopaedic Center, to learning how to program the robot, to working with Dr. Lenz's graduate student to develop and interpret robotic driven motion. The student will be responsible for preparing certain data files to use as inputs to the robotic simulator. The student will be encouraged to perform a literature review at the beginning of the summer to understand the scope, relevance and clinical motivation for the research to be completed. In Dr. Lenz's lab, undergraduate students have an excellent history of earning co-authorship on published manuscripts. Therefore, discussions and expectations for consideration as a co-author will be clearly outlined at the beginning of the summer semester. Students in Dr. Lenz's lab are also typically given the opportunity to shadow surgeons in the OR, clinic and participate in research meetings with the foot and ankle surgeon collaborators. Overall, it is Dr. Lenz's goal to provide a comprehensive research experience by providing many learning opportunities while setting tangible goals to complete the proposed research.
Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits
At the completion of the SPUR program, the student will have a comprehensive experience of conducting foot and ankle orthopaedic biomechanics research with a focus on cadaveric work with the robotic simulator. Students seeking a future career as an engineering graduate student (biomedical or mechanical) or professional clinical degree (MD, DO, PA, or PT) will gain valuable experiences to prepare them for the next step in their professional and academic careers. As previously mentioned, co-authorship on the project will be considered and clear expectations will be outlined. Furthermore, students wishing to pursue any of the above mentioned post-undergraduate career options will have resources and colleagues in the department to discuss options and seek additional mentorship from outside of the immediate Lenz Research Group.
My goals as a research faculty are to: 1) create insightful curiosity for orthopaedic biomechanics research through my style of mentorship, 2) help students develop their own way to arrive at successful research accomplishments, 3) inspire students to push through the difficult frustrations of research and continue to ask manageable research questions. I am a nurturing mentor that does not want to micromanage but let creative exploration of research occur while providing clear expectations. As a mentor, I strive to pick up on the soft signs and body language when students are lost. I always encourage students to feel comfortable asking questions and highlight that all questions are excellent. I have a "Lenz Lab" slack account in which I encourage frequent networking within our research group (aka asking other students in the lab questions, as well as reaching out directly to me). We have weekly lab meetings, so that all students are aware of what other students are working on. This promotes collaborative work, sharing of knowledge and helpful troubleshooting.