Oscar Pistorius made history in 2012 by becoming the first amputee to compete in the Summer Olympics, finishing second in a 400-meter heat. Of course, Pistorius subsequently became infamous for shooting and killing his girlfriend, but for Craig McGowan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Idaho, Pistorius remains an example of the power of proper prosthetics.
Most amputees, says McGowan, aren't as lucky in finding a comfortable prosthesis that enables them to live active, healthy lives. Commonly, he says, finding the right prosthesis takes trial and error that can still result in back and knee problems.
"These guys are beating themselves to death with these things," says McGowan. "It's pretty clear to me that they are not integrating with the body that well."
McGowan hopes his research will change that. With funding from a one-year Murdock Charitable Trust Exceptional Opportunity Grant, he's currently using computers to model the mechanics of something that most of us take for granted: how legs run. The next step in his research will be creating a simulation of a runner using a prosthesis, which will shed light on how the device interacts with the body's neuromuscular system. Ultimately, he envisions new prostheses that allow their users to run and stay active without adversely straining the rest of their bodies.