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It’s all in the hands: Students take home awards and experiences from biomechanics conference

Dr. Charles’ research assistants took the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Society of Biomechanics by storm in April. Eight of the ten research assistants (RAs) who represented Brigham Young University presented their research, and BYU took home three of the eight awards given at the conference.

Much of the current research in Dr. Charles’ lab is centered around tremors in the hands and the arms. Samantha Nelson, an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student in Dr. Charles’ research group won “Students’ Choice Poster Presentation” for her presentation titled “Estimating Wrist Muscle Forces and Torques During Activities of Daily Living Using Subject-Specific Models.”

“I did not expect it all, because I had never been to a conference or presented a poster, so it was exciting,” Nelson said.

A native of Syracuse, Utah, Nelson has always been drawn to engineering, and is currently leaning toward the field of biomechanics. She explained that the conference helped her learn even more about the field and got her excited about all the different aspects of biomechanical research.

Two more of the eight students representing BYU also took home awards. Mechanical engineering graduate Nolan Howes won “Students’ Choice Podium Presentation” for his presentation titled “Using Frequency Response Estimation to Determine Which Muscles Are Most Responsible for a Patient’s Hand Tremor”, and Jacob Cox was the winner of the Best Undergraduate Poster Presentation.

Cox, a West Virginia native, entered the program last year and joined Dr. Charles' research in September. His presentation was titled “Comparison Between Landmark and Postural Methods for Establishing Sensor-To-Body Calibration for Motion Capture of Whole-Arm Movements.” He said that every part of the process from the preparation to the presentation of the poster was a valuable learning experience.

“In preparing it and practicing presenting it, I felt like I learned a lot. It helped me to really clarify the things that I understood about the project and opened my mind to some of the questions that I could be asking but haven’t tried yet,” Cox said. “Working with Professor Charles and then presenting at the conference, I was able to get an even better understanding of the research I’m doing in the first place.”

Not only was the conference a valuable opportunity to learn from other presenters, it was also a chance for the research students to get to know their labmates better.

“I didn't know all the other people that well,” Cox said. “But to do a seven-hour road trip with them, and then stay with them in a cabin, that was a really fun part of going to the conference, was just getting to know each other a bit more that way.”

BYU is unique in its utilization of undergraduates in research labs. Cox recognized the rarity of the opportunity not only to be involved in research, but to attend a conference as an undergraduate.

“I'd say the majority of the students there were graduate students, and they were really impressed that there were undergraduate students there who were presenting,” Cox said. “The fact that Professor Charles went out of his way to take undergraduates and to involve us in research is incredible. I don't see a lot of people getting that experience as an undergraduate.”

The annual gathering took place in Estes Park, Colorado and lasted for two days. There were a total of 27 podium presentations and 45 poster presentations.

“It was really interesting to see what other research and biomechanics is being done,” Nelson said. “You get to see what other students in other schools we're focusing on and experimenting with...It helped me realize just how much research is being done and how much is going on specifically in the field of biomechanics, and so that was really cool.”