faculty research

Research: New SMU study connects running motion to ground force

SMU researchers have developed a concise new explanation for the basic mechanics involved in human running. Their research has immediate application for running performance, injury prevention, rehab and the individualized design of running shoes, orthotics and prostheses.

The work integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force application on the ground – during jogging, sprinting and at all speeds in between.

The approach could enable the use of individualized gait patterns to optimize the design of shoes, orthoses and prostheses according to biomechanics experts Kenneth Clark, Laurence Ryan and Peter Weyand, who authored the new study.

The ground force-time patterns determine the body’s motion coming out of each step and therefore directly determine running performance. The impact portion of the pattern is also believed to be a critical factor for running injuries.

“The human body is mechanically complex, but our new study indicates that the pattern of force on the ground can be accurately understood from the motion of just two body parts,” said Clark, first author on the study and currently an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“The foot and the lower leg stop abruptly upon impact, and the rest of the body above the knee moves in a characteristic way,” Clark said. “This new simplified approach makes it possible to predict the entire pattern of force on the ground — from impact to toe-off — with very basic motion data.”

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

SMU professors Zachary Wallmark, Sabri Ates earn 2017 NEH grants

Zachary Wallmark

Zachary Wallmark

The National Endowment for the Humanities has named SMU professors Zachary Wallmark and Sabri Ates as fellowship grant recipients in January – the only two recipients in North Texas for the current funding cycle.

Wallmark, assistant professor and chair of music history in Meadows School of the Arts, is using music studies, cognitive sciences and original brain imaging experiments to research the nature of our emotional response to music.

“I am deeply honored to receive this recognition,” Wallmark said. “With the support of the NEH, I hope in my work to help people better understand music’s grip on human emotion and imagination.”

Sabri Ates

Sabri Ates

Ates, associate professor in the Clements Department of History, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is drawing on a variety of archival sources from different languages to write Sheikh Abdulqadir Nehri (d. 1925) and the Pursuit of an Independent Kurdistan. In the book, Ates will explore the quest for a Kurdish state between 1880-1925, when the creation of such a state emerged as a distinct possibility and then quickly unraveled.

“What this grant tells us is that our work has national relevance,” Ates said. “Recognition of SMU’s faculty work by a prestigious institution like NEH further cements SMU’s standing as a research university. With the support of NEH, I hope to answer one of the enduring questions of the contemporary Middle East: the Kurdish statelessness.”

> Read the full story from SMU News

Research: Rare inscription names mysterious Etruscan goddess

Greg Warden with Etruscan steleArchaeologists translating a very rare inscription have discovered the name of a goddess in a sacred text that is possibly the longest such Etruscan inscription ever discovered on stone.

The discovery indicates that Uni – a divinity of fertility and possibly a mother goddess at this particular place – may have been the titular deity worshipped at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization.

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” said SMU professor emeritus Gregory Warden. The University is the main sponsor of the archaeological dig.

“It’s a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”

Scientists discovered the ancient stone slab embedded as part of a temple wall at the Poggio Colla dig, where many other Etruscan objects have been found, including a ceramic fragment with the earliest birth scene in European art. That object reinforces the interpretation of a fertility cult at Poggio Colla, Warden said.

Poggia Colla steleNow Etruscan language experts are studying the 500-pound stele to translate the text. It’s very rare to identify the god or goddess worshipped at an Etruscan sanctuary.

“The location of its discovery – a place where prestigious offerings were made – and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character,” said Adriano Maggiani, formerly professor at the University of Venice and one of the scholars working to decipher the inscription.

“It is also possible that it expresses the laws of the sanctuary — a series of prescriptions related to ceremonies that would have taken place there, perhaps in connection with an altar or some other sacred space,” said Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project that made the discovery.

Warden said it will be easier to speak with more certainty once the archaeologists are able to completely reconstruct the text, which consists of as many as 120 characters or more.

While archaeologists understand how Etruscan grammar works, and know some of its words and alphabet, they expect to discover new words never seen before – particularly since this discovery is not a funerary text. Permanent Etruscan inscriptions are rare, as Etruscans typically used linen cloth books or wax tablets. The texts that have been preserved are quite short and are from graves.

Besides being possibly the longest Etruscan inscription on stone, it is also one of the three longest sacred texts to date. The sandstone slab, which dates to the 6th century BCE and is nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, was discovered in the final stages of two decades of digging at Mugello Valley, which is northeast of Florence in north central Italy.

Other objects unearthed in the past 20 years have shed light on Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. The material helps document ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE.

— Margaret Allen

> Read the full story and see more images at SMUResearch.com

SMU NCAR meets challenge grant, announces $1 million in gifts for arts research

Donna Wilhelm photo by Kim Leeson

Donna Wilhelm (photo by Kim Leeson)

SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) announced that it has successfully met a $500,000 challenge grant from Dallas philanthropist and civic leader Donna Wilhelm, raising a total of $1 million in 2015 for research, programs and services.

The purpose of the challenge grant, given by Wilhelm in February 2015 with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, was to generate $500,000 for operating support for the center. Wilhelm’s matching funds will endow a new Wilhelm Research Fellow for NCAR. The center, which was established in 2012 by the University’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public.

“The National Center for Arts Research has broken new ground in analyzing and interpreting data about the arts and cultural field in the U.S.,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “NCAR’s thought-provoking research is already helping both new and established arts organizations across the country. The University is grateful to benefactor Donna Wilhelm and the donors who supported the challenge grant for their dedication to the important work of the Center.”

An NCAR advisory board member who has supported the center since its founding, Wilhelm approached NCAR with the offer of the challenge grant. “As a donor, I fund initiatives that serve broad needs and have leveraged impact,” said Wilhelm. “The National Center for Arts Research established at SMU, where scholarly excellence and innovation thrives, met my philanthropic goal.  I also believe in strategic investing.  My challenge grant was structured to sustain operating support for NCAR and establish a Research Fellow endowment.  Thanks to generous and visionary donors, we achieved both.  Donors collaborating were able to empower the unlimited potential of NCAR and foster the health of arts organizations nationwide – I salute this amazing teamwork.”

Individual donors and foundations who contributed to help NCAR meet the challenge grant include Jennifer and Peter Altabef; Belle and Don Berg; Diane and Hal Brierley; Melissa and Trevor Fetter; Ann and Trey Fielder; Carol and Don Glendenning/Locke Lord LLP; Ann and Lee Hobson; T.J. Brown & C.A. Lupton Foundation/Kit Moncrief; Communities Foundation of Texas; M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation; Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation; The Sarah and Ross Perot, Jr. Foundation; Vin and Caren Prothro Foundation/Perkins-Prothro Foundation; and the Tolleson Family Foundation.

“In a few short years, NCAR has placed Meadows at the epicenter of evidence-based insight into the arts ecosystem with the underlying purpose of helping arts leaders make better decisions,” said Meadows Dean Samuel Holland. “This significant gift from Donna Wilhelm and all those who contributed to meeting the challenge will allow us to sharpen our focus, build scale, and extend the reach of NCAR to places where its work is most needed.”

The first Wilhelm Research Fellow is Richard Briesch, professor of marketing in the Cox School. Briesch holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Northwestern, an M.B.A. from Rice and a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from Carnegie Mellon.

“Rick has been working with NCAR since we launched in 2012,” said Zannie Voss, director of NCAR.  “He is one of the most well-respected econometricians in the country and specializes in consumer behavior.”

Voss added, “We are so grateful to Donna Wilhelm and our additional generous donors for endowing the research fellowship and providing critical operating support that will help NCAR continue its dedicated work to help arts and cultural organizations nationwide.”

> Read the full story from SMU News

Tune In: SMU students take on CNN

SMU students at CNNRita Kirk, SMU communications professor and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, recently took three students to New Hampshire to visit presidential headquarters and organize focus groups for CNN during the Iowa Caucus. As a CNN analyst herself, Kirk has the opportunity to bring students as part of her research staff and throw them into a high-paced, challenging, exciting and demanding atmosphere.

Students put together a focus group of 60 independent voters, gathered poll data, and analyzed the data in real-time. They had to be in control of every piece of data that came across them. They visited different campaign field offices and ended the trip by helping Dr. Kirk run her focus group on live international television.

Learn more and read the perspective of a student on this trip at the SMU Adventures blog

Three years of ‘educational diplomacy’ between SMU and Pakistan culminate in 2015 Islamabad conference

Workshop participants at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University

Participants in a workshop at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University. (Photo courtesy of thePeshawar.com)

Two professors and a clinical graduate student from SMU’s Department of Psychology will travel halfway around the world to help the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University (SBBWU) of Peshawar, Pakistan, host an international psychology conference in Islamabad on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.

The conference, “Advancing Women Issues: Local and Global Directions,” will feature 55 speakers and 400 participants from across the region. It’s the culminating effort of a three-year partnership between SMU and SBBWU supported by a $1.2 million U.S. State Department grant.

“I look at it as educational diplomacy,” says SMU Psychology Department Chair George Holden. “The U.S. State Department wanted to do something to help relations between the countries and recognized the need to help Pakistan develop its educational system so the Pakistanis can better improve their country.”

At the conference, Holden will present the SMU and SBBWU’s joint research on trauma in Peshawar, where the threat of a terrorist’s bomb is never far from mind. During a Friday, Dec. 11 workshop, SMU psychology professor Lorelei Rowe and graduate student Rose Ashraf will present the latest version of Rowe’s popular psychological assessment tool, SCID-5, which helps doctors diagnose their patients through an interview-like examination process.

Other presenters will focus on topics such as promoting the well-being of women and children in Pakistan and the impact of Nepal’s earthquake on Nepalese women and children.

The SMU-SBBWU partnership is one of 20 funded by the State Department. All 20 partnerships connect American universities with universities in Pakistan or Afghanistan. SMU’s grant also brought SBBWU students and faculty to SMU, where they interacted with SMU students and faculty in an exchange of ideas and education.

— Kenny Ryan

SMU Prof. George Holden to speak at congressional briefing on corporal punishment in public schools Nov. 18, 2015

George Holden, SMU Professor of Psychology

George Holden, SMU Professor of Psychology

SMU Professor and Psychology Department Chair George Holden will speak before a congressional briefing titled “Spare the Rod: Protect the Child” from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18 in Washington D.C.

Holden, a leading expert on parenting, discipline and family, will participate in a panel designed to tackle the ongoing phenomena of corporal punishment in schools – which is still legal in 19 states, including Texas, though outlawed in Dallas and the state’s other metropolitan areas.

“There’s very limited research about the impact of corporal punishment in schools, but what research is available is focused on how much it’s used and to whom its used on,” Holden says. “It’s mostly used on minority students and students with disabilities.”

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Florida, is hosting the briefing, which will be attended by congressional staffers. Hastings’ goal, says Holden, is to introduce a bill that will outlaw corporal punishment and paddling of children in schools.

Holden believes this is the second recent attempt to pass such a bill. In 2011, New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy introduced a bill called the “Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act,” which failed to make it out of committee.

The 19 states where corporal punishment in schools is still legal are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

– Kenny Ryan

Research: Computer model of key protein helps predict how cancer drugs will work

Drugs important in the battle against cancer behaved according to predictions when tested in a computer-generated model of P-glycoprotein, one of the cell’s key molecular pumps.

The new model allows researchers to dock nearly any drug in the P-gp protein and see how it will actually behave in P-gp’s pump, said Associate Professor John G. Wise, lead author on the journal article announcing the advancement and a faculty member in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

SMU biologists developed the computer generated model to overcome the problem of relying on only static images for the structure of P-gp. The protein is the cellular pump that protects cells by pumping out toxins.

But that’s a problem when P-gp targets chemotherapy drugs as toxic, preventing chemo from killing cancer cells. Scientists are searching for ways to inhibit P-gp’s pumping action.

“The value of this fundamental research is that it generates dynamic mechanisms that let us understand something in biochemistry, in biology,” Wise said. “And by understanding P-gp in such detail, we can now think of ways to better and more specifically inhibit it.”

The SMU researchers tested Tariquidar, a new P-gp inhibitor still in clinical trials. Inhibitors offer hope for stopping P-gp’s rejection of chemotherapeutics by stalling the protein’s pumping action. Pharmacology researchers disagree, however, on where exactly Tariquidar binds in P-gp.

When run through the SMU model, Tariquidar behaved as expected: It wasn’t effectively pumped from the cell and the researchers observed that it prefers to bind high in the protein.

“Now we have more details on how Tariquidar inhibits P-gp, where it inhibits and what it’s actually binding to,” Wise said.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

Calendar Highlights: March 25, 2015

nuclear-conference-posterNuclear Weapons and National Security: SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies hosts “Nuclear Weapons and National Security: The Once and Future Role of the Bomb” on Thursday, March 26, 5:30-7:30 p.m., in Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Hall. Featuring the recently retired commander of the U.S. Strategic Command and one of the country’s leading historians of the nuclear age, the program will examine the paradox of nuclear weapons and national security in the “post-nuclear” age. While the event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. 

Exercise and Wellness Colloquium: SMU’s Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness presents Dr. Tim Church as he leads Research on Exercise and Wellness Colloquium Series on Friday, March 27, from 2-3:20 p.m. in R138 Simmons Hall. Pulling from his research on preventative medicine, Dr. Church will explore the hows and whys of an effective exercise plan. For more information, email Dr. Lynn Romejko Jacobs.

Table of Content Award Dinner: Friends of the SMU Libraries hosts Tables of Content featuring the presentation of the 6th Annual Literati Award to Willard Spiegelman on Saturday, March 28, 6 p.m., at the Collins Executive Education Center. Honoring individuals who have used the written word to advance the ideals of creativity, conviction, innovation and scholarship, the event features roundtables of engaging discussion with fascinating table hosts on a variety of topics. For ticket and sponsorship information, call 214.768.3225.

The State of the Data Center Industry: SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering hosts The State of the Data Center Industry featuring Chris Cosby, founder and CEO of Compass Datacenters. As the data center industry is continually evolving, Crosby will provide a detailed overview of the data center business. The seminar will take place on Monday, March 30, 2-3 p.m., in the Palmer Conference Center, Caruth Hall.

Meadows at the Meyerson: SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts hosts its 22nd annual benefit concert, “Meadows at the Meyerson 2015,” on Tuesday, March 31, at 8 p.m., at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in the Dallas Arts District. The annual concert features the critically acclaimed Meadows Symphony Orchestra and honors a community leader. This year’s honoree is noted arts and civic leader (and SMU trustee) Caren Prothro. Tickets to the concert are $17 for SMU students, faculty and staff.

Research: Whale fossil provides key to unlock date of East Africa’s mysterious uplift

A 17 million-year-old Turkana ziphiid beaked whale fossil from the Great Rift Valley, East AfricaPaleontologists have used a fossil from the most precisely dated beaked whale in the world to pinpoint for the first time a date when East Africa’s mysterious elevation began.

The 17 million-year-old fossil is from the Ziphiidae family. It was discovered 740 kilometers inland at a elevation of 620 meters in modern Kenya’s harsh desert region and is the only stranded whale ever found so far inland on the African continent, said SMU vertebrate paleontologist Louis Jacobs.

Uplift associated with the Great Rift Valley of East Africa and the environmental changes it produced have puzzled scientists for decades because the timing and starting elevation have been poorly constrained. Determining ancient land elevation is very difficult, but the whale provides one near sea level.

“It’s rare to get a paleo-elevation,” Jacobs said, noting only one other in East Africa, determined from a lava flow.

At the time the whale was alive, it would have been swimming far inland up a river with a low gradient ranging from 24 to 37 meters over more than 600 to 900 kilometers, said Jacobs. He is co-author of a study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that provides the first constraint on the start of uplift of East African terrain from near sea level.

“The whale was stranded up river at a time when east Africa was at sea level and was covered with forest and jungle,” Jacobs said. “As that part of the continent rose up, that caused the climate to become drier and drier. So over millions of years, forest gave way to grasslands. Primates evolved to adapt to grasslands and dry country. And that’s when – in human evolution – the primates started to walk upright.”

Identified as a Turkana ziphiid, the whale would have lived in the open ocean, like its modern beaked cousins. Ziphiids, still one of the ocean’s top predators, are the deepest diving air-breathing mammals alive, plunging to nearly 10,000 feet to feed, primarily on squid.

In contrast to most whale fossils, which have been discovered in marine rocks, Kenya’s beached whale was found in river deposits, known as fluvial sediments, said Jacobs, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The whale, probably disoriented, swam into the river and could not change its course, continuing well inland.

“You don’t usually find whales so far inland,” Jacobs said. “Many of the known beaked whale fossils are dredged by fishermen from the bottom of the sea.”

The beaked whale fossil was discovered in 1964 by J.G. Mead in what is now the Turkana region of northwest Kenya. Mead, an undergraduate student at Yale University at the time, made a career at the Smithsonian Institution, from which he recently retired. Over the years, the Kenya whale fossil went missing in storage.

Jacobs, who was at one time head of the Division of Paleontology for the National Museums of Kenya, spent 30 years trying to locate the fossil. His effort paid off in 2011, when he rediscovered it at Harvard University and returned it to the National Museums of Kenya.

The fossil is only a small portion of the whale, which Mead originally estimated was 7 meters long during its life. Mead unearthed the beak portion of the skull, 2.6 feet long and 1.8 feet wide, specifically the maxillae and premaxillae, the bones that form the upper jaw and palate.

The researchers reported their findings in “A 17-My-old whale constrains onset of uplift and climate change in east Africa” online at the PNAS web site. Besides Jacobs, other authors from SMU are Andrew Lin, Michael Polcyn, Dale Winkler and Matthew Clemens.

From other institutions, authors are Henry Wichura and Manfred R. Strecker, University of Potsdam, and Fredrick K. Manthi, National Museums of Kenya.

Funding for the research came from SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man and the SMU Engaged Learning program.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

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