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The Guardian: How fast can we go? The science of the 100m sprint

“Newton figured out the laws of motion centuries ago but when we apply them to the human body it gets really complex, really quickly.” — Peter Weyand

Journalist Simon Usborne tapped the human-speed expertise of SMU biomechanics expert Peter Weyand for an article in the London newspaper The Guardian. The article examines the potential for humans to continue improving strength and speed beyond what has already been achieved.

Usborne interviewed Weyand for his expertise on the mechanics of running and speed of world-class sprinters like Usain Bolt. The article “How fast can we go? The science of the 100m sprint” published Oct. 3, 2016.

Weyand, director of the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory, is one of the world’s leading scholars on the scientific basis of human performance. His research on runners, specifically world-class sprinters, looks at the importance of ground forces for running speed, and has established a contemporary understanding that spans the scientific and athletic communities.

In particular, Weyand’s finding that speed athletes are not able to reposition their legs more rapidly than non-athletes debunked a widespread belief. Rather, Weyand and his colleagues have demonstrated sprinting performance is largely set by the force with which one presses against the ground and how long one applies that force.

Weyand is Glenn Simmons Centennial Chair in Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

Read the full story.


By Simon Usborne
The Guardian

The greatest race in the Olympics is the simplest. Eight runners, eight straight lines. A bang, an explosion of muscle and, less than ten seconds later, a winner. And all they do is run. No bikes, boats, vaults or horses — just one foot in front of the other. Yet, in those three dozen blinks of an eye, sprinters in the 100m perform physical feats so advanced that scientists are still trying to understand them.

“On one level you’d think we would have pieced it together a long time ago,” says Peter Weyand, one of the world’s leading students of running and professor of applied physiology and biomechanics at South Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. “Newton figured out the laws of motion centuries ago but when we when we apply them to the human body it gets really complex, really quickly.”

Simply analysing the extreme motion and exertions of a sprinter is challenging. Weyand and his team have a large treadmill in their lab capable of rolling at 90mph. In the punishing max test, athletes straddle the moving belt and hop on for a few seconds at a time. They start slow, with rests in between. “We increase the speed until the athlete can’t maintain it,” the professor says. “We need eight steps without moving backwards for a good trial.”

The tests are a safer version of jumping off the back of an old Routemaster bus and staying upright for eight paces – athletes wear harnesses in case they trip – but how fast is the bus going? “The unofficial record on our treadmill is 11.72 metres per second,” Weyand says. That’s 26.7mph, or not far off a city speed limit, or Bolt’s peak speed during his 2009 world record run of 27.8mph. “When we have elite athletes do the test, the whole office comes over to watch.”

High-speed treadmills, slow-motion imaging and pressure sensors have allowed scientists to study aspects of elite sprinting that were largely unknown as recently as 15 years ago. “If you asked a coach in the late 1990s what they were doing it was all very much based on form,” Weyand says. “But when we started this work back at that time, the first thing we figured out is that what makes these guys fast is how forcefully they can hit the ground in relation to their body weight.”

When Usain Bolt looks like he’s floating over the track, he’s really not. That extreme rippling in the face that slow motion footage reveals in some runners demonstrates the forces that transfer from foot to floor. “We know that Bolt will peak out with each step at about five times his weight, while non-sprinting athletes will peak at about 3.5 times,” Weyand explains. “The science is clear: the top athletes are specialised to deliver the most force to the ground and that’s what makes them fast. But even now I think we’re still in the formative phase — it hasn’t yet translated into broad practices in training.”

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Researchers test blood flow in athletes’ brains to find markers that diagnose concussions

Diagnosing concussions is difficult because it typically rests on subjective symptoms such as forgetfulness, wobbly gait and disorientation or loss of consciousness. A new study of college athletes investigates objective indicators using Doppler ultrasound to measure brain blood flow and blood vessel function.

A hard hit to the head typically prompts physicians to look for signs of a concussion based on symptoms such as forgetfulness, wobbly gait and disorientation.

But symptoms such as those are subjective. And youth who are anxious to get back to their sport can sometimes hide the signs in order to brush off adult concerns, says physiologist Sushmita Purkayastha, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

Now a new study funded by the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas aims to find noninvasive objective indicators to diagnose whether an athlete has suffered a concussion. Using transcranial Doppler ultrasound, the study will probe the brains of college athletes to measure blood vessel function in the brain, looking for tell-tale signs related to blood flow that help diagnose concussion, said Purkayastha, a researcher on the new study.

“We know this is an understudied area. With other health problems, when the doctor suspects diabetes or hypertension, they don’t guess, they run objective tests to confirm the diagnosis. But that’s not the case with concussion — yet,” said Purkayastha, whose research expertise is blood flow regulation in the human brain. “That’s why my research focus is to find markers that are objective and not subjective. And this method of monitoring blood flow in the brain with ultrasound is noninvasive, inexpensive and there’s no radiation.”

Purkayastha and others on the research team are working under a one-year, $150,000 pilot research grant from the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair, a UT Southwestern initiative funded by the Texas Legislature to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries.

The team will observe 200 male and female college athletes over the next two years. Half the athletes will be students playing a contact-collision sport who have recently suffered a sports-related concussion. The other half, a control group, will be students playing a contact-collision sport who don’t have a concussion. The study draws on athletes from football, soccer, equestrian sports, cheerleading and recreational sports.

The researchers began testing subjects in August. They expect to have results by the Fall of 2017.

“We are very excited at establishing this collaboration between SMU and the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at UTSW. Our work with Dr. Purkayastha promises to give meaningful insight into the role of cerebral blood flow mechanisms after concussion and will point us in the right direction for improved neurorecovery,” said physician Kathleen Bell, a leading investigator at U.T. Southwestern’s Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair and principal investigator on the study. Bell is a nationally recognized leader in rehabilitation medicine and a specialist in neurorehabilitation.

Diagnosing concussions by using objective, non-invasive and inexpensive markers will result in accurate diagnosis and better return-to-play decisions following a concussion, thereby preventing the long-term risk of second-impact syndrome, said Purkayastha, an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness of SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Although sports-related concussions are common, the physiology of the injury is poorly understood, and hence there are limited treatments currently available,” she said.

Hemorrhage or blackouts result, for example, if autoregulation malfunctions
While the brain is the most important organ in the body, it has been very understudied, said Purkayastha, a professor in the Simmons School of Education & Human Development. But since blood vessels in the brain behave similarly to those in the rest of the body, it’s possible to measure blood vessel function in the brain by monitoring blood pressure and brain blood flow. Observing those functions could reveal a marker, she said.

In Purkayastha’s lab on the SMU campus, student athletes are being outfitted with two small ultrasound probes, one on each side of their forehead in the temple area, to test blood vessel function. Specifically, the two probes monitor the blood flow through middle cerebral artery, which supplies blood to 75 percent of the brain. The artery traverses the brain, circulating blood to the brain tissues responsible for movement, cognition and decision-making.

Branching from the middle cerebral artery is a network of blood vessels that get smaller and smaller as they get further from the artery, spreading like tree branches through the brain. The smallest vessels — via a different local regulatory mechanism — maintain constant blood flow to the brain, making microadjustments, such as constricting and dilating in the face of constant changes in blood pressure. Adjustments occur as a person’s muscles move, whether standing, sitting, exercising, or even just laughing and experiencing emotion. These continual adjustments in the vessels — called cerebral autoregulation — keep blood flow constant and regular. That prevents problems such as hemorrhaging or passing out from large fluctuations in blood pressure that is either too high or too low.

Researchers suspect concussion diminishes a vessels ability to properly regulate blood flow
In the current study, ultrasound probes on the temples record the vessels’ microadjustments as digital data. That information is processed through a WinDaq data acquisition software and analyzed to examine cerebral autoregulation with spontaneous changes in blood pressure during that period of time.

Unlike at the doctor’s office, when a cuff is used to measure blood pressure at a rate of single measurements during 30 seconds, Purkayastha’s ultrasound monitoring of blood pressure provides continuous blood pressure recording throughout each heartbeat. As sound waves bounce into the artery and send back an echo, they measure the speed of red blood cells and other blood components moving through the artery.

“We collect 10 minutes of very high frequency data points collecting information on beat-to-beat changes in blood pressure and blood flow to the brain for every single heartbeat,” said Purkayastha. “Then we analyze and post-process and examine how well the blood vessels were able to maintain constant blood flow to the brain. We suspect in people with concussion that the autoregulation function isn’t operating properly which leads to impairments in function such as wobbly gait, disorientation or forgetfulness. This is a noninvasive way to see if there’s a flaw in the autoregulation.”

Athletes with confirmed diagnosis of concussions will be tested three times during the course of the study. The first test is three days after a suspected concussion, the second is 21 days afterward, and the third is three months afterward.

“The pilot studies so far look promising and our goal is to better understand the mechanism behind injury and design objective markers detecting concussion,” said Purkayastha.

The Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center, a component of the Harold and Annette Simmons Comprehensive Center for Research and Treatment in Brain and Neurological Disorders, is a collaborative initiative involving local and national organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, University of Texas Dallas and its Center for BrainHealth, Children’s Medical Center, Dallas VA Medical Center, and Parkland Health and Hospital System, as well as Texas Health Resources and Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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Students grasp abstract math concepts after they demonstrate them with arm motions

Video game that directs students to make arm movements fosters understanding for proving complex geometry theorems

Students who make relevant arm movements while learning can improve their knowledge and retention of math, research has shown.

Now researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a model using geometry proofs that shows potential for wide adoption — a video game in which students make movements with their arms to learn abstract math concepts.

The research is the first to use widely available technology combined with relevant body gestures and apply it to the learning of complex reasoning in a highly conceptual, pre-college math domain — geometric proof production.

“When they’re doing geometry, students and teachers gesture all the time to show shapes, lines, and relationships, and the research suggests this is very beneficial,” said teaching expert Candace Walkington, assistant professor of teaching and learning in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development.

“Our goal is to create an environment that supports students in making motions that help them understand the math better, Walkington said.”

Walkington and educational psychology professors Mitchell Nathan and Peter Steiner, University of Wisconsin-Madison are collaborating on the project with SMU Guildhall, SMU’s graduate-level academic program for digital game-development.

The researchers have been awarded a four-year $1.39 million grant for their work from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences, Educational Research Grants.

“Much of math education is about learning rules and procedures. Geometry proof is different,” said Nathan, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Students have to learn how to think conceptually about why certain statements about shapes are true, how they are always true, for all members of a class of shapes, and how to explain it to others so they are convincing. We think that level of mathematical understanding is embodied.”

Emerging research is investigating the theory that our body actions can actually influence our thoughts, in addition to our thoughts driving our actions. Body movement can induce new activity in our neural systems. This activity can create and influence our learning, thinking and mental organization. This mind-body partnership, dubbed “embodied cognition,” is driving new approaches to learning subjects such as math.

“What is so exciting about this geometry research project is that it shows how theories of embodied cognition are becoming mature enough to start to develop a whole new class of educational technology that we can envision as part of everyday math classrooms in the near term,” Nathan said.

Video game fosters learning by pairing gestures with geometry proofs
At the heart of the new study is the video game “The Hidden Village.” A motion-capture video game, “The Hidden Village” helps foster learning by pairing motions with geometry proofs. Designed for a Windows PC computer with Microsoft’s Kinect 2 motion-capture camera attached, the game’s signature design element is an episodic story paired with directives for arm movements.

Each episode leads a student to perform certain motions with their arms, correlating those with questions and answers related to proofs of geometry theorems.

To begin, a student stands in front of the Kinect camera. The camera detects the student, then calibrates to each student’s body shape, size and movement, familiarizing itself with the student.

When play begins, the camera and software detect movements in real time and provide feedback about whether the students are appropriately matching the motions.

A demo of the latest version of the video game is available on Youtube, with an explanatory video at this link.

Directed body motions can improve proving of theorems
The previous version of the game was tested at a high school in Dallas in February with positive results. The researchers are presenting those results in early November at the Psychology of Mathematics Education conference in Tucson, Arizona.

Preliminary findings showed students liked learning in the video game format, and benefited when they were encouraged to think about how their body motions related to the geometric proofs.

“High school students really struggle to learn proof in geometry, and often their initial performance on these proofs is very low,” said Walkington, who specializes in math education and connecting it to students’ concrete everyday experiences. “However, making and thinking through the motions from the game, they’re given a new resource with which to think about the problems.”

Recent research led by Nathan found that directed body motions can lead to improvements in geometry theorem proving even when students claim no awareness of the relevance of the actions to the mathematical tasks. Research has also found that verbal prompts from a teacher to connect the actions to mathematical ideas further improve student proof practices.

The new grant, “How dynamic gestures and directed actions contribute to mathematical proof practices,” runs from July 2016 through June 2020. — Margaret Allen, SMU

Follow SMU Research on Twitter, @smuresearch.

For more SMU research see

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information,

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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New York Daily News: Shocking viral video of 5-year-old boy being paddled

Paddling still legal in public schools in 19 states, but research has shown corporal punishment is damaging to child

The New York Daily News quoted SMU Psychology Professor George W. Holden for his expertise on spanking in an article about a Georgia principal paddling a 5-year-old boy as punishment. The paddling was caught on video and went viral on the Internet by viewers who were horrified and shocked.

The article, “Shocking viral video of 5-year-old boy being paddled shines light on legal but ‘damaging’ corporal punishment,” published April 15, 2016.

Holden is a leading expert on parenting, discipline and family violence. He strongly advocates against corporal punishment and cites overwhelming research, including his own, that has demonstrated that spanking is not only ineffective, but also harmful to children, and many times leads to child abuse.

Holden, an expert in families and child development, is a founding member of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children,

Holden’s earlier research, “Corporal punishment: Mother’s self-recorded audio,” provided a unique real-time look at spanking in a way that’s never before been studied. In a study of 37 families, mothers voluntarily recorded their evening interactions with their young children over the course of six days, including incidents of corporal punishment.

His work into the determinants of parental behavior, parental social cognition, and the causes and consequences of family violence has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, The Timberlawn Research Foundation, and, most recently, the U.S. State Department.

Read the full story.


By Laura Bult
New York Daily News

Horrified viewers watched video of a Georgia principal paddling a 5-year-old boy as punishment — a legal but controversial action that has sparked a conversation about the effects of corporal punishment on children.

It is still legal to strike kids as a form of punishment in public schools in 19 states, primarily in the south and the west, despite research and experts’ views that it amounts to child abuse.

“I suspect this thing happens a lot. A lot of paddling goes on in small towns in Texas, and particularly in southern states,” George Holden, the chair of the psychology department at Southern Methodist University and the president of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, told the Daily News.

The practice persists primarily in the south because of the heavy influence of religion, Holden added.

Students in states where it is legal received swats, spanks and slaps 166,807 times in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the most recent federal data.

Corporal punishment is protected by a 1977 Supreme Court decision, which ruled that physical discipline in schools didn’t violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Shana Marie Perez’s viral video showing her son getting punished by Jasper County Primary School principal Pam Edge as the assistant principal held him down was lawful, but disturbed many opponents of the archaic practice.

“Corporal punishment is potentially damaging to children, it’s not the best way to deal with them and it’s also a violation of their right not to be hit,” Holden fumed, saying that giving children painful punishments teaches them to be violent and often results in depression and anxiety.

“If the adult is hitting a child, they learn to hit other children if they’re upset or angry,” he said.

Perez claimed the school threatened her son with suspension if she didn’t agree to the punishment and that she could get sent to jail for truancy for having already withheld him from school for 18 days that school year.

Read the full story.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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SMU Research Day 2016: Students present their research to the SMU and Dallas community

Day of presenting in Hughes-Trigg Student Center allows students to discuss their research, identify potential collaborators, discover other perspectives.

SMU graduate and undergraduate students presented their research to the SMU community at the University’s Research Day 2016 on Feb. 10.

Sponsored by the SMU Office of Research and Graduate Studies, the research spanned more than 20 different fields from schools across campus.

The annual Research Day event fosters communication between students in different disciplines, gives students the opportunity to present their work in a professional setting, and allows students to share with their peers and industry professionals from the greater Dallas community the outstanding research conducted at SMU.

A cash prize of $250 was awarded to the best poster from each department or judging group.

View the list of student winners whose research was awarded a cash prize.

View highlights of the presentations.

Some highlights of the research:

  • Faris Altamimi, a student of Dr. Sevinc Sengor in Lyle School‘s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, presented a study investigating experimental and modeling approaches for enhanced methane generation from municipal solid waste, while providing science-based solutions for cleaner, renewable sources of energy for the future.
  • Yongqiang Li and Xiaogai Li, students of Dr. Xin-Lin Gao in Lyle School’s Mechanical Engineering Department, are addressing the serious blunt trauma injury that soldiers on the battlefield suffer from ballistics impact to their helmets. The study simulated the ballistic performance of the Advanced Combat Helmet.
  • Audrey Reeves, Sara Merrikhihaghi and Kevin Bruemmer, students of Dr. Alexander Lippert, in the Chemistry Department of Dedman College, presented research on cell-permeable fluorescent probes in the imaging of enzymatic pathways in living cells, specifically the gaseous signaling molecule nitroxyl. Their research better understands nitroxyl’s role as an inhibitor of an enzyme that is key in the conversion of acetaldehyde to acetic acid.
  • Rose Ashraf, a student of Dr. George Holden in the Psychology Department of Dedman College, presented her research on harsh verbal discipline in the home and its prediction of child compliance. It was found permissive parents are least likely to elicit prolonged compliance.
  • Nicole Vu and Caitlin Rancher, students of Dr. Ernest N. Jouriles and Dr. Renee McDonald in the Psychology Department of Dedman College, presented research on children’s threat appraisals of interparental conflict and it’s relationship to child anxiety.

See the full catalog of participants and their abstracts.