Welcome to my little corner of Viterbi Voices, where you’ll learn a whole lot about BME, sports and food (my three favorite things). For my first post, I want to talk to y’all about my research lab- I spend something like 10 hours a week in the Biomechanics Lab under Dr. Jill McNitt-Gray, located in the basement of the PED building (the huge building right across from the track with the intimidating staircase). It’s one of my favorite involvements on campus at SC, and I always love stopping by the lab to catch up with my fellow labmates!
First, a little more about my professor/PI: As a joint appointment professor between Viterbi and Dornsife, Dr. McNitt-Gray teaches classes at the intersection of biology and engineering. She has taught Biomechanics classes as well as human biology and kinesiology classes on campus, making her an expert in how the human body moves and functions. As a result, our lab specifically focuses on studying force distribution in athletic movements in an effort to improve efficiency during these motions, allowing athletes to prevent injuries from form and incorrect body placement.
Coming into college, I knew I wanted to do research, and after over thirteen years of sports, I knew I wanted to work with athletes. On the first day of my BME 101 class, my professor had us look up different fields within biomedical engineering, from tissue engineering to materials science to biomechanics. As soon as we looked up biomechanics, I stumbled across Dr. McNitt-Gray’s lab and knew I had to work there. Biomechanics is essentially the study of how the body moves, especially how the forces within the body work to achieve simple tasks like walking and running. In our lab, we have force plates surrounded by high speed cameras, both of which allow us to collect data on isolated movements, like golf swings or tennis serves. We use a variety of sensors, placed all over the body, to track the movement of specific bones and joints, then put all the pieces together in AMASS, a digitizing software, as well as Kinovea, a video tool. Essentially, we create videos with force vectors that illustrate the magnitude and direction of the forces generated by the athlete, as well as videos that track the movement of every major body part over the course of this motion. These videos are then analyzed to generate real-time feedback for coaches and the athletes themselves, allowing them to optimize their performance when it’s time for competition.
It sounds a little complicated, but the work I do in lab is a lot of fun, and I love getting to work with athletes on a more scientific level. Seeing how the forces behind sports work is incredible, and every time I have a meeting with my grad student director, I remember why I joined this lab in the first place. I’m pre-med because I love helping people, but working the Biomechanics lab helps me achieve that goal in a different way—by really making a difference in how athletes train by giving them this video feedback, I can help prevent injuries in the future. To me, that’s pretty rewarding work, and something I’m honored to do every day. My grad student also brings his dog on Fridays, so that’s just the icing on the cake.