How humans walk when using a cell phone subject of post-grad engineering research
December 9, 2016   //   By:   //   Achievements, Research and Academics

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When Kelly Seymour ’12 was working on post-graduate research at the University of Delaware, more than one person asked her former engineering professor, Kurt DeGoede, if Elizabethtown College could “send them more Kelly Seymours.”

They recognized that she “was well trained in engineering, an outstanding communicator and could write effectively — strong positives for entering graduate school and having that level of research,” DeGoede said.

In turn, Seymour credits her “well-rounded” liberal arts education, professors taking a personal interest in students and having the opportunity for independent research. “Compared to my peers I was much more prepared for technical writing and presenting,” she said. “At Elizabethtown, an engineering degree wasn’t just math and science; I also took writing courses.”

Recently, Seymour, along with DeGoede and others, garnered significant media attention for research published this past summer in the Journal of Motor Behavior. The paper, “Cellular Telephone Dialing Influences Kinematic and Spatiotemporal Gait Parameters in Healthy Adult” — or the way people walk when they are using a cell phone, was part of Seymour’s master’s thesis.

At Elizabethtown, an engineering degree wasn’t just math and science.”

The research, said DeGoede, was in the realm of studies he had done at the University of Michigan on tripping, falling and arresting the fall. At Elizabethtown, Seymour had an interest in biomechanics and completed her senior project in DeGoede’s Biomechanics Lab. Then, at Delaware, Seymour began her collaboration with Dr. Jill Startzell Higginson, conducting the research described here; she brought on DeGoede to serve on her thesis committee.

In the research, study subjects walked on a treadmill at a self-selected speed and were asked to maintain that speed while texting or tapping in a phone number, DeGoede said. “The subjects had a more flexed knee gait, as if they are on a slippery surface like an icy sidewalk.” Their stride got wider, as well, increasing their base of support. “This helps us have a better understanding of how we navigate dual tasks,” said DeGoede.

The project, said Seymour, became a unique collaboration between engineering and psychology when the researchers came to understand that all subjects from varied backgrounds act the same in this instance. We looked into how “engineering principles apply to the personal body,” Seymour said. “There was a human interaction component.”

Although the research was published in July, media didn’t pick up on it until November, Seymour said. Her first call was from the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom. After that “a ton of media” contacted her — TV stations in England, radio in Scotland, print articles in Canada.

Seymour is now employed in quality engineering with Terumo Medical Corporation in Elkton, Maryland.

About the Author :

E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is the communications manager and news editor at Elizabethtown College. She has worked in the Office of Marketing and Communications since 2008, after more than two decades as a newspaper feature writer. She holds a bachelor's degree in corporate communication from Elizabethtown College.