Biomechanics marries biological sciences and mechanical engineering to understand human physiology and develop therapeutic mechanical devices and diagnostic tools. Faculty in this research area apply the laws of mechanics to virtual human musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology to study and design prosthetic devices such as artificial joints.
The Virtual Haptic Back
Haptics, which provides users with force and touch feedback, plays a key role in biomechanics research at Ohio University. Haptics gives a human user the sense of touch and force from virtual computer models. This provides an innovative tool for medical education wherein students can train in the difficult art of palpatory diagnosis using virtual reality as a supplement to practice with human subjects. John Howell, emeritus associate professor of physiology, and Robert Williams II, professor of mechanical engineering, use the Virtual Haptic Back to provide osteopathic medical students in training a simulation of the feel of the human back. Theirs is the first group to apply haptics and virtual reality technology to support research and medical student training in the field of osteopathic medicine. They are continuously refining the realism of their models based on the feedback of the medical students and practicing clinicians.
Impact Mitigation in Prosthetic Devices
Muhammad Ali, associate professor of mechanical engineering, seeks to exploit effective energy absorption characteristics of functionally graded biomaterials. He researches applications of graded honeycomb structures for impact mitigation in prostheses, particularly artificial hip and knee joints. The idea of utilizing functionally graded materials with slanted cell shapes was acquired by observing that banana peel cross-sections, which contain honeycomb shaped graded structure, protect the internal soft core of bananas from external impacts. In collaboration with other researchers, Ali has explored low-, medium-, and high-impact responses of homogeneous, composite, and crushable foam filled honeycomb functionally graded structures and developed mathematical models that enable the design of graded honeycomb structures by defining the number of cells, size, and shape of cells, type of cell patterns for a given thickness, loading conditions, and material types.
Computational Models of Fatigue Damage in Bone, and Mechanotransduction
Bone injuries can occur due to trauma, and failure and damage can occur from repetitive use. At its most basic level, bone physiology and response to injury and wear is determined by the forces and stresses exerted on the bone. Understanding the relationship between the mechanical factors and damage provides insights into ways to minimize musculoskeletal problems and develop prosthetic devices. John R. Cotton, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, combines finite element methods with mechanical engineering analysis to develop computational models of fatigue damage and biological response in bone. He uses these models to analyze clinical injuries, repair techniques, and the design of biomechanical implants. In a related area, Cotton’s group has been successful in modeling the mechanotransduction of receptor cells in the inner ear. He plans to conduct similar research into simulating mechanoreceptors within bone.