Kersh promotes biomechanics through outreach
When Assistant Professor Mariana Kersh decided to become a mechanical engineer, her grandmother thought she would be driving trains.
On the contrary, Kersh works in the field of biomechanics. In her Tissue Biomechanics Lab, she studies the structural and mechanical properties of musculoskeletal tissues to further understand and treat bone and joint diseases.
“Engineering in general really suffers from this,” Kersh said. “People think it’s about old-school trains, cars, planes, engines. And there’s obviously still a good scope of work to be done in those fields, but biomechanics is a fairly new field and the acceleration of materials and technologies that support it has led to what it’s become now, which is something that’s really blossoming and growing.”
Kersh said she was always interested in biology and medicine and at one point wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. She credits her undergraduate advisor for directing her toward biomechanics and mechanical engineering, combining her interests along with her strengths in math and physics.
Now, she and the students in her research group are reaching out to young students in a variety of ways to introduce them to the field of biomechanics.
For example, at MechSE’s “Girls Building Awesome Machines (GBAM)” and “Exploring MechSE” summer camps, Kersh and her graduate students helped the campers build a prosthetic hand, introducing them to the design process and engineering principles that are theoretical and complex, and showing them how to model the human body as a mechanical system in which muscles are like small motors and joints are like gears and constraint systems.
“Many young women curious about different STEM majors believe that mechanical engineering is a male-dominated field focused only on cars and engines,” said Eric Currier, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and last year’s project coordinator for the prosthetics activity at the GBAM camp. “But by introducing biomechanics, and other areas of mechanical engineering, we can eradicate this stereotype.”
Megan Fritz, a rising senior in mechanical engineering, works in Kersh’s research group and grew up wanting to be a doctor. But, like Kersh, she found that her interests and strengths in math and physics aligned with the field of biomechanics.
“I didn't hear about engineering until high school, and I think when girls are introduced to engineering at a younger age it helps them understand not only the impact of their math and science classes, but it also helps them be more interested in them,” Fritz said. “Girls of all ages should realize that engineering is something they can succeed at.”
In addition to the camps, Kersh and her students were instructors in an elective class at University High School that introduces students to different types of engineering. She lead the students in a project to build a prosthetic device that can pick up a variety of objects with different textures.
“I think a lot of students are looking for a challenge, and our job is hopefully to show them how fun engineering is and that it has real-life, real-world applications.”