On April 13, students in Saint Viator’s STEM program traveled to the cutting edge the physical therapy and human movement sciences department at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, where they saw some of the department’s novel approach to rehabilitation therapy.
Its laboratory-based research is focused on movement and rehabilitation science, spanning basic animal physiology, quantitative human research, and clinical applications through the development of therapeutic devices and interventions.
Students spoke with biomedical engineers, exercise physiologists, neurologists and physical therapists. They also experienced firsthand some of these therapeutic devices and interventions while visiting four different physical therapy research labs.
The first was a physics-centered lab where they had reflectors attached to their legs and were filmed walking so that the computer could analyze their gate. Students were also hooked up to a harness that took weight off of their body to see how it adjusts and affects gait and they walked on a body perturbing treadmill that could shake them left and right or speed up one leg more than the other to simulate uneven territory and slipping.
Students then visited an ultrasound lab that allows researchers to investigate nerves and muscles without needing radiation or expensive MRI’s, before making their way to a lab that is doing research on how to help children with cerebral palsy.
“We were introduced to a Go Baby, which is a modified child’s electric riding car that helps children with limited mobility get around,” said Mrs. Paula Nicolau, STEM coordinator. “It is our hope that we might be able to be connected with a family in need of one of these that we could modify as a group.”
Finally, the group visited a robotic lab that helps those with strokes or other ailments that have left them weak on one side. The robot takes weight off of the patient to help them move their arm and then gradually adds weight to help them strengthen the affected limb. They also monitor electrical impulses to the brain to research which part of the brain takes over for the damaged section.
The field trip to Northwestern’s physical therapy labs counted as one of the four experiences needed by students in Saint Viator’s new STEM program, which was designed for those students who are considering a college major in science, technology, engineering or math.
Mrs. Mary Lee DeBelina, assistant principal, commended the students for giving up their day off of school to make the trip, but she suspects it made an impact.
“These field trips are important,” she said. “Through our STEM program, students are encouraged to have out of school, real-life exposure to medical and engineering fields.”