IGERT recipient embarks on wheelchair research with IntelliWheels
During school hours, first-year MechSE graduate student Alan Gaglio delves into neuroengineering classes. After hours, he works alongside local startup IntelliWheels to facilitate wheelchair use with adaptive technology.
His interdisciplinary studies and research in MechSE associate professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler’s research group are funded by the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program. The NSF-offered traineeship is meant to equip U.S. PhD scientists, engineers, and educators in different fields and encourage interdisciplinary research. After graduating from Boston University with a BS in biomedical and electrical engineering, Gaglio decided to study closer to home and in an area of interest –neuroengineering–at Illinois.
Over the next two years, Gaglio will develop an instrumented wheelchair hand rim in Hsiao-Wecksler’s Human Dynamics and Control Lab. His device will be used as a tool to perform inverse dynamics, a process used to calculate joint forces and torques, in order to estimate these values in the upper extremity joints of wheelchair users.
“That’s really important because long-term wheelchair users tend to have chronic shoulder pain,”he said. “We are comparing the forces and torques at the shoulder of a wheelchair user for a standard manual wheelchair and a geared manual wheelchair.”
Gaglio will spend the first year of his research developing the wheelchair hand rim device. The device will then be used in a collaborative study with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When Gaglio explored research groups for graduate school, he said that the Human Dynamics and Control Lab appealed to him for its focus on developing orthotics. His interests in biomechanics and experience with motion capture caused him to gravitate to Hsiao-Wecksler’s wheelchair hand rim research.
“A lot of principles will still be the same [between motion capture and the wheelchair hand rim project], as far as measuring these signals you are getting from the human body and conditioning them to come up with useful information that could potentially better someone’s life,”Gaglio said.
Other topics in Hsiao-Wecksler’s research group include developing a portable powered ankle-foot orthosis that aids vertical foot movement to help patients walk, a simulator to mimic muscle control disorders caused by spasticity (the stiffening of muscles), and improved swing through gait crutches, which provide stability with a cuff at the wrist. Additional research should help solve existing issues with the crutches.
“The problem there is peoplecan develop carpel tunnel or other types of wrist pain,”Gaglio said. “They are trying to design a better cuff system to keep the wrists in good posture to prevent carpel tunnel or different wrist pains resulting from the use of these types of crutches.”
Beyond research, another component of the IGERT program is immersing trainees in neuroengineering courses. Courses that Gaglio takes under the traineeship are categorized into three categories: introduction to neuroscience, a specialized topics course, and a project-based course.
As Gaglio completes his first year at MechSE, he has some words of advice to undergraduate students considering Illinois for graduate school.
“Be extremely thorough in your search for professors and the field that you want to get into,”Gaglio said. “That was one thing that I really spent a lot of time doing—reading about professors, what type of research they have done, and what kind of research it looks like they will be doing in the future.”