University of Delaware Online Research Magazine
University of Delaware Online Research Magazine

ISSN 2150-5128

Sharpening that competitive edge

  Beth Miller

Science Writer, UD Office of Communications and Marketing
Olympic competitors aren’t born. They’re crafted through years of careful practice, perseverance and the ability to improve under great pressure.

That’s why more than 60 young figure skaters—including five of the six singles skaters on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team and five of the six alternates—have made their way to the University of Delaware’s ice rinks over the past decade. Prompted by the U.S. Figure Skating Association and their coaches, they hope to gain a competitive edge through a unique biomechanical analysis done by Jim Richards, distinguished professor of kinesiology and applied physiology in the College of Health Sciences.

Richards and his research team have rigged up an array of 10 cameras that capture data from reflective markers placed on skaters. As they attempt challenging jumps—especially the triple Axels, quadruple jumps and jump combinations that put elite skaters at the top of their sport—the cameras record their precise positions, the speed of their rotations, their time in the air. The data are then fed into a computer program Richards developed with biomechanics expert Tom Kepple, chief science officer at C-Motion Inc. and a former UD instructor.

 

Alysa Liu prepares for a jump during testing at UD last fall. In January, she won the national junior ladies’ title.
Research assistants Liz Rapp van Roden and Corey Koller adjust the reflective markers on Ilia Malinin before he skates.

 

Researchers aren’t looking at fancy footwork sequences or scratch spins or any of the other elements of competitive skating.

“We’re only looking at what they’re doing in the air,” Richards said. “Almost every skater has the rotational energy to complete the jump. It’s what they’re doing in the air that keeps them from being successful.”

Consider that the triple Axel requires three full rotations in the air and a quadruple jump requires 3 1/2. That’s 1,080 degrees of rotation (360 x 3) for the Axel, 1,260 for a quad.

“They have to get into their tightest position within a specific time period,” Richards said. “For a triple or quad, that’s within the first revolution.”

Rotation speed is lost if an arm is sticking out a bit or their head is leaning. And the cameras don’t lie.

The adjustments aren’t easy for skaters, Richards said, but the science is persuasive.

Debbie Minahan, who coaches skater Will Annis at the Yarmouth (Mass.) Ice Club, often uses video to analyze skaters’ techniques but was excited to have access to this level of analysis.

“I thought this was an incredible opportunity that wouldn’t be offered anywhere else,” she said. “For Will—working on all of his triples now—it seemed that it would be valuable to have that feedback.”

 

Jim Richards has been on the University’s faculty since 1980 and serves as distinguished professor of kinesiology and applied physiology in the College of Health Sciences. His research interests include device design, measurement technique optimization, gait analysis and sport biomechanics. His work with elite skaters draws interest from around the world.

Fighting brain cancer

  Beth Miller

Science Writer, UD Office of Communications and Marketing
Abrief chat at a Faculty Senate meeting put two University of Delaware
researchers onto an idea that could be of great value to cancer researchers.

The collaboration of Prof. Prasad Dhurjati, a chemical engineer who has done extensive computer modeling of biological and engineering systems, and Prof. Deni Galileo, a neurobiologist whose expertise is in cell motion and behavior in the brain, has produced a new and freely available computer program that predicts cancer cell motion and spread with high accuracy.

Galileo has been studying the movement and spread of glioblastoma tumors— an aggressive and devastating form of brain cancer that has claimed thousands of lives, including those of Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and two Phillies greats—pitcher Tug McGraw and catcher Darren Daulton—to name just a few. U.S. Sen. John McCain was diagnosed in 2017.

A significant challenge rests in the fact that this cancer spreads rapidly, reducing the effectiveness of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Dhurjati looked at Galileo’s work and realized it was a strong candidate for the kind of mathematical modeling he does with biological systems. Together, they constructed a computer model of glioblastoma cells that accurately reflects what Galileo sees live cells doing under a microscope. And that opens new opportunities for researchers.
“When your model represents real systems, you can play with the model in ways you cannot play with a human brain,” Dhurjati said. The new model can be adapted to help researchers looking at other kinds of cells, too, and is ideal for education purposes.

“We are not interested in stopping cells in a dish, but in a brain,” Galileo said. “Ultimately we want to model the total three-dimensional behavior of how cells move around.”

 

From left, Prasad Dhurjati and Deni Galileo, professors of chemical engineering and biological sciences, respectively, have developed a new way to study the motion and spread of brain cancer cells.
How Glioblastoma Spreads. In this aggressive brain cancer, some cells migrate away from the main tumor mass along blood vessels and myelinated axons. They also diffuse into the functional brain tissue, or parenchyma. This invariably results in failure of surgical resection to cure the cancer.

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Credit where credit is due

  Sunny Rosen

Communications Specialist, Lerner College of Business & Economics

Women receive less credit for speaking up in the workplace than their male counterparts.

That’s one of the key findings made by Kyle Emich, assistant professor of management in UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, with co-authors from the University of Arizona, Boston College and the United States Military Academy, in their article for the Academy of Management Journal.

“In sum, we find that when men speak up with ideas on how to change their team for the better they gain the respect of their teammates—since speaking up indicates knowledge of the task at hand and concern for the wellbeing of the team,” Emich said. “Then, when it comes time to replace the team’s leader, those men are more likely to be nominated to do so. Alternatively, when women speak up with ideas on how to change the team for the better, they are not given any more respect than women who do not speak up at all, and thus are not seen as viable leadership options.”

Emich said that in the case of the researchers’ first sample, involving military cadets at West Point, “This difference is immense.”

On average in 10-person teams, men who speak up more than two-thirds of their teammates are voted to be the No. 2 candidate to take on leadership. Women who speak up the same amount are voted to be the No. 8 candidate. “This effect size is bigger than any I have seen since I began studying teams in 2009,” Emich said.

Further, in a lab study of working adults from across the U.S., Emich said, “We find that men are given more credit than women even when saying the exact same thing.”

Correcting the problem will take effort and conscious attention to biases against women.

“We all use cognitive shortcuts to get through each day,” Emich said. “Think of what you had for breakfast. You probably just grabbed the closest thing to you, or followed a pattern of what you always eat. Well, we have patterns and shortcuts involving people too, and one of them is more easily considering men leaders even when women exhibit the exact same behaviors. And this shortcut has very real negative consequences for women and workplaces alike.”

 

Partners in disaster research

UD Bill Anderson Fund Fellows (from left) April Davison, Asia Dowtin and Cynthia Rivas with Norma Anderson, who founded the Bill Anderson Fund in her husband’s memory.

  Ann Manser

Senior Editor,
UD College of Arts and Sciences
When the late William A. Anderson ventured onto the scene of disasters to survey the damage and interview survivors, or when he attended professional conferences during his long and productive career, he often ruefully noted that he was the only African American researcher in sight.

Now, a fund established in his memory and dedicated to his goal of improving diversity in the field of disaster studies has found a home at the University of Delaware.

Anderson, who died in 2013, had longstanding ties to UD’s Disaster Research Center (DRC) and was among the center’s first doctoral students when it was founded in 1963 at Ohio State University. (It moved to UD in the 1980s.)

His widow, Norma Anderson, created the nonprofit Bill Anderson Fund (BAF) in 2014. With what she called “a groundswell of support” from her husband’s many former colleagues, students and protégés, BAF has gone on to provide graduate students across the U.S. with assistance in building careers in disaster research and practice.

“We have a wonderful and very forward-thinking board of directors, and we’ve been very active in holding workshops and mentorship programs,” Norma Anderson said. “But my ultimate goal was always to have the Bill Anderson Fund housed at a university, and to have a director who was an academic.
“I am so thrilled that we’re going to be at the University of Delaware. Bill was in the first cohort of the Disaster Research Center, so in many ways we see him returning to his professional home.”

 

William Averett Anderson

Dr. William Averett Anderson

William Averette Anderson earned his doctorate in sociology at Ohio State University in 1966 and went on to a career as a college professor, a National Science Foundation (NSF) officer, a World Bank natural disaster specialist and an official of the National Research Council.

 

He was known as a pioneering researcher and a leader in fostering student learning and in mentoring the next generation of disaster scholars.

 

As a professor at Arizona State University, he directed the American Sociological Association’s minority fellowship program. Later, at NSF, he promoted studies of the effects of disasters on vulnerable populations.

UD-NUVVE collaboration driving into the future

Charging ahead. UD technology is being used by Nuvve Corporation in electric vehicles, allowing them to charge or discharge their batteries when connected to the electrical grid. The vehicles above are in use in Denmark.

  Karen Roberts

Communications Specialist,
UD College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment
An expanded collaboration between the University of Delaware and Nuvve Corporation, announced in December 2017, is accelerating pioneering changes in energy and transportation. Electric vehicles with UD’s technology don’t just draw energy from the power grid, they also can send energy back.

“Our partnership with Nuvve Corporation demonstrates the University of Delaware’s abiding commitment to cutting-edge research and innovation. This collaboration opens up new horizons for synergizing the strengths of academia and industry in charting the future of clean and sustainable energy,” UD President Dennis Assanis said. “The University of Delaware’s students and researchers are—and will continue to be—a major force in the global transportation revolution.”

Nuvve, a Delaware company based in California, gained exclusive global rights to market UD’s pioneering vehicle-to-grid technology (V2G) in 2016. Electric vehicles with the UD technology can charge or discharge their batteries back to the electric grid. The software aggregates all vehicles plugged into the system so that they perform in unison, helping to balance the grid’s supply of electricity with demand—in real time, on a second-to-second basis. Conventional power plants take several minutes to respond to grid demands.

Under the new agreement, Nuvve will hold the patents to the V2G technology and UD will hold an equity share in the company. Additionally, UD will establish an advanced R&D center to expand its leadership in the technology.

“A major transition is underway in the world, and the University of Delaware is right at the forefront,” said David Weir, director of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships. “The technology pioneered here at UD will further accelerate the disruption that’s taking place and shake up the transportation marketplace.”

 

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