Stellenbosch University recently established a new unit for Neuromechanics (also known as the Human Movement Analysis facility) within the Central Analytical Facilities (CAF) to support a wide range of human movement research in healthcare, engineering and sport.
Neuromechanics is an interdisciplinary field that integrates neuroscience and biomechanics to understand how the human nervous system and musculoskeletal system interact to control movements. Knowledge of how human movement is controlled and organized in different contexts play a critical role in efforts to improve the health and well-being of society in a number of fields.
For example, it can support the development of assistive devices, surgical procedures and clinical services for persons with impaired physical function due to aging, injury, disability or disease. It can also be used to improve performance in sport and exercise through optimized training and coaching, or to improve workplace productivity and safety through optimized ergonomics.
The Neuromechanics unit is well placed to play a leading role in developing this relatively new field in South Africa – it houses state-of-the-art equipment and is staffed by a team of three full-time biomedical engineers. Unlike many of the other CAF units which house large-scale instruments for studying material samples on a microscopic scale and in highly controlled conditions, the Neuromechanics unit specializes in non-invasive technologies and techniques for assessing overall physical function in both indoor and outdoor settings.
The unit’s high-speed motion capture systems are capable of capturing the three-dimensional posture and movement of the skeletal system in great detail during physical activity. It is also possible to assess three-dimensional ground reaction forces or pressure patterns on the feet during standing, jumping, walking or running tasks. This motion and force data can be combined to perform computational modelling of mechanical loading in individual skeletal joints.
The unit also provides wireless sensors for kinesiological electromyography (EMG: assessment of electrical activity in the muscles) and high-density electroencephalography (EEG: assessment of electrical activity in the brain), as well as mobile cardiopulmonary exercise testing (assessment of heart and lung function). All of this equipment can be operated simultaneously in a time-synchronized manner. These capabilities are unique in the country and will enable world-class student training and more advanced experiments.
The Neuromechanics unit has operated from an established laboratory on the Tygerberg campus for two years, and has just expanded by opening a large brand new laboratory facility at the Coetzenberg Sports Science Complex in Stellenbosch. This new facility has been custom-built for neuromechanics research and is also one-of-a-kind in the country. Therefore, since the unit already facilitates a diversity of projects from different University departments and campuses (Physiotherapy, Biomedical Engineering, Sports Science, Orthopaedics), it can play an important future role in driving scientific excellence and collaboration between research groups, Maties Sport and Campus Health.
For more information visit www.sun.ac.za/caf