Balance can be defined as a condition in which the body is in stationary equilibrium without the tendency to topple due to the effect of gravity. You will see several examples during the ballet of dancers being en pointe, which means standing while balanced on the toes of one foot. Human movement fascinates Dagmar Sternad. With postdoctoral researcher Marta Russo, Sternad is studying how the human body can balance. And who knows more about balance than a ballet dancer? Russo and Sternad, who are professors of biology, electrical and computer engineering, and physics at the Northeastern University are building models from the data they’re collecting for a bigger project that’s looking into how humans interact with objects, and how they maintain balance.
Sternad, who directs the Action Lab at Northeastern University, is an internationally known authority in the field of experimental and computational motor neuroscience. As a part of this project, she watched ballet dancers dancing around her lab and stickers put on their joint helped her track their movements. The dancers stood still on a narrow beam and also had to walk on them and observed if they could they do that again with ski poles.
Sternad asks “What are the limits of human performance when it comes to balancing?”. “These dancers constitute a practical limit. This is foundational research.” Her studies of human motor control and learning have shed light on neurological defects in Parkinson patients, children with dystonia, and individuals who have suffered strokes. This research could have far-reaching implications for clinical research, helping to shed insight, for example, on how to increase mobility in older adults or people with physical disabilities. Their findings could also help engineers design better robots.