Human Performance Lab at WSU sparks innovation
Jeremy Patterson believes it’s important to let students be the leaders in his Human Performance Laboratory at Wichita State University.
And while that may sometimes be an unpopular view in academia, he said, it has produced some impressive results, most notably the creation and collaboration on two new smartphone apps that are now being used in the sports industry.
The lab, which was recently renovated and expanded, is unique in that it is a shared research and teaching space for the faculty and students in the Department of Human Performance Studies.
Instead of having students study the faculty’s specialized degree track, they can opt to pursue a project or niche that suits their interests, and the faculty does what they can to make the students experts on that topic.
It’s a single lab that produces research outcomes on many different topics.
Patterson said this leads to a lot of extra work for the faculty, but the results are rewarding.
“This is typically not the best approach to a successful career in academics, and in the past this was something we were criticized for,” Patterson said. “But we decided early on to give the keys to the lab to the students.”
Patterson said it’s important, as students work toward their degrees, that they can actually do what they’ve been learning about. So in that way, the faculty treats the lab as a classroom.
Students are continuously exposed to research projects, including opportunities to work within local, state and regional companies. Many of the program’s students have gone on to become employed at those companies, Patterson said.
There is also an emphasis on internal interdisciplinary work, allowing collaboration with other programs including bioengineering program, the human factors psychology program, WSU’s Regional Institute on Aging, and the University of Kansas Medical Center-Wichita.
Students are even given the chance to do international work through a research and academic relationship with Nogoya City University in Nagoya, Japan, and the National Institute for Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Japan, as well as studies being conducted with colleagues from New Zealand and Spain.
Many small businesses have been created by students, graduates and faculty, ranging from fitness centers to software development to a supplement company.
And then there are the smartphone apps. SWAY Medical was developed by Chase Curtiss, who graduated from the program in 2008. As a WSU student, Curtiss was a graduate research assistant and ran the computer-based cognitive baseline assessments for Shocker athletes. That experience led him to consider how technology could improve those assessments.
His SWAY app measures athletes’ balance, which can be in indicator of a concussion. Patterson has continued to work closely with Curtiss as the app has been approved by the FDA and become more widely used. In June, SWAY Medical joined with ImPACT, a concussion evaluation system used in the NFL, MLB, NHL, most universities and more that 7,000 high schools.
Although the SWAY Balance app started as a tool for concussion management, its FDA clearance has created other medical management opportunities, which are being researched in a collaborative study between WSU’s exercise science and bioengineering programs.
Another app to come from the Human Performance Lab is called Heart R8, which allows any webcam-enabled computer, tablet or smartphone to accurately measure heart rate. Heart R8 was developed by Patterson and assistant professor Jibo He.
They are in discussions with treadmill companies to get cameras built into the control consuls.
Patterson said these are just a couple of examples of the innovative work being done in the lab.
“Prospective students and their parents used to always ask, ‘What can you do with a degree in exercise science?’ But I don’t think I’ve had to address that question for a few years now,” Patterson said. “There are some great research-focused exercise science programs in this region, but with our approach to technology innovation and the dozens of small businesses that have been created out of the program, it’s hard to imagine that there’s an exercise science program anywhere that is influencing their community and region as much as WSU.”