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Neuromechanics and Applied Locomotion Lab  at the University of Utah

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Real-World Locomotion

Daily life requires walking in a wide variety of situations. We walk in open spaces, but also crowded hallways. We walk in straight lines, except when we don't. We walk and talk and think all at the same time! Our research focuses on understanding how we perform these common, yet complex, locomotor tasks.

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Improving mobility using a multi-disciplinary approach

Situated within the Cognitive and Motor Neuroscience research theme, we concentrate on the intersection of biomechanics and neural control during real-world locomotion to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and functional rehabilitation of populations with impaired mobility. Towards this goal, we study populations with traumatically induced injury (e.g., concussion) or neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Parkinson’s disease) to understand how physiological changes influence balance and gait. We value collaborations with engineers, clinicians, physical therapists, and neuroscientists to synthesize and apply our knowledge of locomotion and balance to improve people's lives.

Research Areas

Humans are inherently unstable - we resemble an inverted pendulum that is constantly falling over. Humans use a variety of strategies to stay upright, including using torque about the ankles or hips when standing, controlling the placement of their foot when walking, and even using their arms to provide a stabilizing counter-rotation. Our work probes how individuals maintain stability and -in the event of perturbations- regain stability.

Example: We actively control where we place our foot when walking over uneven ground. For example, we may modify where we place our foot if we see an uneven patch of ground or an upcoming rock. Using a custom mechanized shoe, we study how individuals use different information to control their foot placement and regulate stability during walking and turning. We've found that while it is important to know when a perturbation will occur and to have enough time to prepare, knowing what you will encounter is most important to improving your balance recovery.

Stability during walking and standing
Common, yet complex, locomotion

While most gait research has considered straight gait, we do not walk in a straight line with no added tasks. Simultaneous cognitive tasks and turns are commonplace in everyday locomotion and may pose a greater risk of adverse events. Our work examines the kinematics and kinetics of gait to probe how people walk in everyday life, and how neurological injury or disease affects tasks representative of daily living.

Example: People with chronic mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) turn their bodies slower when walking along a winding path. While people with mTBI also tend to walk slower than healthy individuals, only turning outcomes related to self-reported complaints of headache, nausea, and other somatic symptoms, suggesting a sought-after link between self-reported symptoms and mobility may reside in turning and non-straight gait. 

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Inertial sensors for clinical gait and balance assessments

Inertial sensors are becoming increasingly popular for gait and mobility analysis. Our work uses inertial sensors to probe clinical questions in a more objective way using both commercial and in-house algorithms.

Example: Inertial sensors can capture objective measures of reactive responses - an important component of balance that enables us to regain balance after a loss of stability. We are using inertial sensors to quantify reactive balance in NCAA collegiate athletes to better understand musculoskeletal injury risk and concussion recovery. Our results indicate that the longer someone takes to recover their balance, quantified using inertial sensors, the higher the risk for future musculoskeletal injury.  

Neuroanatomical origins of motor dysfunction post-concussion

Our research team collaborates with autonomic neurologists and neuropsychologists who focus on neuroimaging to understand how motor behavior interacts with physiology after mild traumatic brain injuries (e.g., concussions).

Example: The brainstem contains several key nuclei for motor function and serving as a pathway for all ascending sensory information and descending motor commands to and from subcortical and cortical structures. Yet, the brainstem is relatively understudied in people with mild traumatic brain injury. We use high-definition magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) acquisition and then deterministic tractography techniques to create profiles of various white matter tracts in the brainstem. We are now examining the relationship between these important markers of brain health to other measures of motor function. 

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Nonlinear dynamic analysis of human movement

Human movement is complex and resembles nonlinear dynamical systems. Utilizing analyses stemming from nonlinear dynamics to assess the structure of locomotor and postural control, our research examines how neurophysiological changes impact locomotor and postural stability.

Example: Using data from a tri-axial accelerometer, we can separate walking and turning bouts to construct state-space attractors. Features of the state-space (e.g., the rate of divergence of nearby trajectories) can be useful tools for examining locomotor and postural control by identifying phase-dependent dual-task costs in people with Parkinson's disease or persistent locomotor abnormalities in people with a previous concussion.

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Our Team

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Peter Fino, PhD
Lab Director

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Regan Crofts, MS
Research Coordinator

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Bre Dumke
PhD Student

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Nooshin Seddighi
PhD Student

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Cecilia Monoli, PhD
Postdoc

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Tessa Petersell, BS
Research Coordinator

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David Quammen
PhD Student

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Paula Kramer
MS Student

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Christina Geisler, MS
Research Coordinator

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Jun Son, MS
Research Assistant

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Selena Cho
PhD Student

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Francisca Moreira
Undergraduate RA

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Lab Alumni

Postdoc Alumni

Amanda Morris, PhD - Assistant Professor, Sacramento State

Paula Johnson, PhD - Director of Research, Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions

Tiphanie Raffegeau, PhD - Assistant Professor, George Mason University

PhD Alumni

Nick Kreter, PhD - Postdoc, University of Oregon

Breanna Dumke Helfrich, PhD - Owner, Movement Design Lab

Mindie Clark, PhD - Assistant Professor, Rocky Mountain College

MS Alumni

Jun Son - Research Coordinator, University of Utah

Regan Crofts - Research Coordinator, University of Utah

Nick Woo - PhD Student, University of Utah

Alise Borse - Nurse Practioner and Instructor, Vanderbilt University

Research Staff Alumni

Carter Lybbert - PhD Student, University of Utah

Ben Cassidy - Medical Student, Virginia Commonwealth University

Tyler Ho - Research Coordinator, Center for Limb Loss and Mobility, VAPSHCS

Sarah Hill - Wildland Fire Dispatch Coordinator

Undergraduate Alumni

Jasmine Arreguin

Cameron Jensen

Shu Yang

Vincent Veibell

Claire Rogers

Elle Gaudette

Josh Wood

Tyler Ho

Our Collaborators

Cognitive and Motor Neuroscience Research Theme | Health and Kinesiology

Genevieve Albouy | Sleep Motor Memory Lab

Brad King | Lifespan Motor Neuroscience Lab

Kota Takahashi | Sayu Lab for Biomechanics and Locomotion

University of Utah

Lee Dibble | Physical Therapy & Athletic Training 

Daniel Cushman | Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Lisa Wilde | Neurology

Melissa Cortez | Neurology

Colby Hansen | Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation 

Sarah Creem-Regehr| Psychology

Jeanine Stefanucci | Psychology

Bo Foreman | Physical Therapy & Athletic Training

External Collaborators

Douglas Martini | UMass - Amherst

Laurie King | Oregon Health & Science University 

Martina Mancini | Oregon Health & Science University 

Fay Horak | Oregon Health & Science University 

Carolin Curtze | University of Nebraska Omaha

Mark Lester | US Army-Baylor Physical Therapy

Maggie Weightman | Courage Kenny Research Center

Daniel Peterson | Arizona State University

Liza Zukowski | High Point University 

Our Pets

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Kevin & Olive

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Dieter

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Cormac

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Obi

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Cal

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Boomer

Outreach

We have been a proud parrticipant in National Biomechanics Day (NBD) since 2019. National Biomechanics Day is a worldwide celebration of biomechanics, the breakthrough science of the 21st century! Learn more about this initiative here.

In addition to our annual participation in National Biomechanics Day, we have partnered with the Promoting Access throughout High School Program (PATHS). Together, we host in-person and virtual events to showcase our research and introduce high school students to the field of biomechanics, neuroscience, and motor control. 

Joining the Lab

Graduate Students:

We are always seeking motivated graduate students to join our team. Please read about admission requirements for the Department of Health & Kinesiology here. We also accept students from a variety of other programs across the University of Utah, including the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Rehabilitation Science, and the Neuroscience Program. Applications are due in December of each year, and new students typically start the following fall. We encourage interested students to contact Dr. Fino to inquire about assistantships.

Undergraduate Students:

We actively encourage undergraduate research in the Neuromechanics & Applied Locomotion Lab. Undergraduate students who have a particular interest in biomechanics, motor control, and rehabilitation can engage in mentored research projects. Undergraduates who are interested in either summer research or research throughout an academic year should contact Dr. Fino with a summary of their research interests and their other time commitments. Interested students should be prepared to devote at least 10 hours per week to research.
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