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Robust movement requires the interaction of neural control and biomechanical structure: The neuromechanics of postural balance control
Abstract: Interactions between the neural and musculoskeletal systems are a prerequisite for the production of robust movement. In spite of this, the neural control and musculoskeletal structure underlying biological movements are typically studied independently, with little attention paid to how changes in one may affect the other. Understanding these interactions may be critical to improving current rehabilitation technologies and therapy methods. As an example, balance disorders are multifactorial in nature and identifying whether biomechanical or neural changes are the source of instability remains an unanswered question.
I have used a combined experimental and modeling approach to understand neural and biomechanical interactions governing human balance control. I developed a simple four-bar linkage model with delayed feedback to investigate frontal-plane standing balance. Using methods from time-delay systems I present evidence from this model that biomechanical structure is important for behavioral function and show that neural control and biomechanical structure co-vary for stable human balance. Predictions from the model were tested experimentally to dissociate the effects of inertia and postural configuration on balance. In addition, I applied robust control methods to solve the difficult problem of comparing the relative performance between neuromechanical systems that differ in parameter values and predicted a common mechanism to explain changes in neural control across biomechanical contexts.
In the future, the analytical tools and simulation methods I have developed can be generalized to investigate changes in neuromechanical interactions of various deficits in biomechanics (ACL rupture, amputation) and neural control (Parkinson’s disease, stroke). Furthermore, this approach can be used to explain how neural control and biomechanical structure relate to the diversity of animal form and function, as well as suggest biomimetic control policies for robotics.
Biography: Jeff Bingham’s research focuses on applying dynamics, controls, anatomy, and neuroscience to study the interactions between control and structure of biological systems to understand robust movement. Jeff received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Idaho State University (2003) and Sc.M. in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2006). At MIT he studied in-vivo knee cartilage contact biomechanics in the Harvard Sports Medicine Biomechanics Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2008, he joined the Neuromechanics Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology to pursue a Ph.D. in Bioengineering studying the effects of configuration on stable balance. In the fall of 2010 he was a visiting IGERT scholar to the BioRob lab at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland where he implemented biologically inspired balance control on a bipedal robot. He has also worked as a mechanical engineer, designing industrial refrigeration plants, prototyping and designing portable DNA sequencing machines and formed his own start-up company to produce structural insulation.