State of the Art Lab Finds Home in P.E. Building

Published: September 26, 2013 | Read Time: 4 minutes

In a lab a runner sprints on a treadmill, a blood pressure monitor wrap his arm will be studied to learn the fastest way to raise heart while running. And down the hall, a woman, a month after knee surgery, does simple movements while her muscle strength is scrutinized. 

Each test measures a different function, but all are essential in biomechanics and exercise physiology, which applies the laws of mechanics to human movement and how exercise can reverse disease progression.

Two subjects that hundreds of students study at Southern Utah University, but it seemed that equipment and laboratories being used by these T-Birds were severely outdated and ineffective, until now.

After the J.L. Physical Education Building was dedicated in 2003, SUU began an upward trajectory in enhancing the education of students within human performance majors, and the updated and revamped biomechanics and exercise physiology labs have been part of that campaign.

Overhauling these two laboratories for student use reflects SUU’s commitment to the kind of applied, translational research that comes from a premier research institution, according to Deb Hill, dean of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson College of Education and Human Development.

“This lab does something that sitting in a lecture hall could never do. It gives students experience. It gives them the ability to turn theories into tangible lessons,” said Hill.  

The new equipment that human performance students are now using range from a Cybex Dynamometer (muscle strength analyzer), Body Composition Pods, standing blood pressure analyzer, and instruments to measure glucose, cholesterol and lactate levels.

On top of having shiny new equipment in the biomechanics and physiology labs, Camille Thomas, assistant professor of physical education & human performance, stated that by having this new gear students and faculty have more opportunities to complete unique research and receive outside funding, something they could not do before.

“There have been multiple times we were denied funding because we lacked the equipment to adequately perform the research, that will no longer be a problem for us. This opens countless doors for students to complete research, which in turn enhances their educational experience,” said Thomas.

For professors like Thomas and Julie Taylor, associate professor of physical education, this lab has given them the ability to step away from lecture heavy curricula and instead gives them the ability for their students to spend more time in the lab, running tests on athletes and community members.

Taylor added that this also means her students are better prepared when leaving her classroom. “My students are now using the same equipment they will see in state of the art research facilities and clinics, completely giving them a leg up,” she said.

Thomas and Taylor have also implemented a new and innovated technique in their classes with the software Dartfish, which allows students to record a basketball play making a free throw, runner doing hurdles or a gymnast dismounting with an iPad. From the iPad students and professors can then analyze in slow motion the exact movement to see what’s the most effective angle for a free throw or the right velocity for a golf swing all projected on a special wall biomechanics lab.

A technology, according to Thomas, changes the entire curriculum of her courses.

“I am able to have multiple students take iPads out onto a basketball court, record free throws and then study what makes the perfect free throw,” Thomas stated excitedly. “Instead of me telling them that the velocity of the ball matched with the angle makes an effective shot, they are learning it. I no longer having to tease the answers out of them, they just flow. 

To make room for all this added equipment a few walls were removed from the labs that were all separated, making teaching difficult in a cramp space. The learning and exercise physiology labs were turned into one large room allowing professors to comfortably bring their entire class into the lab to work on the equipment with athletes on campus and in the community.

But this is just phase one of updating both labs. Thomas went on to say that phase two will allow faculty within the program to bring in new bikes, treadmills, electrical cardio graph machine, force plate, portable metabolic analyzer and a rotating climbing wall. She hopes to continue updating the lab through external grants.

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