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Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them.

Brain Food: Human Performance Lab

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Bonnie Stevens
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A sophisticated new lab on the campus of Northern Arizona University is helping researchers study the intricate mechanics of the human body. From increasing athletic performance to improving movement for people with conditions like cerebral palsy, the Human Performance Lab at the Center for Bioengineering Innovation is a hub for groundbreaking research. Anthony Hassel is a biologist at NAU.

“So there’s a lot we can do in this lab besides clinicians being able to come in, say physical therapists, being able to use the space to diagnose back or lower leg abnormalities. We personally use the space to study people with lower limb amputations, so we have a prosthesis here. It’s motorized and we have our own special software that runs it,” he says.

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Credit Bonnie Stevens
A researcher at NAU's Human Performance Lab demonstrates an exoskeleton.

The technology incorporates character-generated imagery, or CGI, similar to what’s being used in the movies. A person’s movement is studied on a computer screen for subtle adjustments. In the case of amputees, limbs can be recreated in cyberspace.

“So, in this software, we can calculate what the muscles should be doing if they were there. And we can figure out how much torque the ankle joint should be producing. We then pass off that information to the motor within the prosthesis and it recreates it on the person,” he says.

Hassel says the research taking place at NAU’s Human Performance Lab is creating tailor-made improvements for many people with injuries and disabilities.

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