Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News Subfeature

New York Times: Blade Runner Tests Limits of Prosthetics, Years After Oscar Pistorius

Track-and-field rules regarding athletes with prosthetic limbs remain gray, even nonexistent.

The New York Times reporter Filip Bondy interviewed SMU biomechanics expert Peter Weyand of the SMU Locomotor Laboratory, for a story about Hunter Woodhall, an 18-year-old athlete with prosthetic limbs competing against top scholastic stars in the United States.

Weyand, who is Glenn Simmons Professor of 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, is director of the Locomotor Lab.

An expert on human locomotion and the mechanics of running, Weyand has been widely interviewed about the controversy surrounding double-amputee South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius. Controversy has swirled around the sprinter over whether his light-weight, carbon-fiber prosthetic “Cheetah” legs give him a competitive advantage.

Weyand helped lead a team of scientists who are experts in biomechanics and physiology in conducting experiments on Pistorius and the mechanics of his racing ability.

For his most recently published research, Weyand was part of a team that developed a concise approach to understanding the mechanics of human running. The 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 New York Times article, “Blade Runner Tests Limits of Prosthetics, Years After Oscar Pistorius,” published March 13, 2017.

Read the full story.


By Filip Bondy
The New York Times

A decade after Oscar Pistorius caused track-and-field officials to re-examine their rules regarding the use of prosthetic limbs at the Olympics, a high school amputee is running in open competition on similar carbon-fiber blades. And once again, guidelines are gray, even nonexistent.

The athlete, Hunter Woodhall, 18, from Syracuse, Utah, is at the Armory track in Manhattan to run in an invitational, 400-meter heat on Saturday at the New Balance Nationals Indoor, competing against the top scholastic stars in the country.

One of the youngest competitors at the Rio Paralympics, Woodhall won silver in the 200-meter competition at 21.12 seconds and bronze in the 400 with a personal-best 46.70. He also appeared to capture gold while anchoring the 4×100 relay, but the United States team was disqualified over an exchange violation on an earlier leg.

Amid these successes, background grumbling appears to have increased in connection with his eligibility for open competitions.

Woodhall has such a winsome personality, it is impossible to imagine anyone complaining to his face about anything. The meet directors are thrilled to have him participate. But there are no hard-and-fast rules regarding the eligibility of bladed runners at scholastic or collegiate levels, and the scientific debate has never been fully settled about whether the prosthetics offer a competitor some unfair advantage.

“When something different comes along, people want an answer,” Woodall said. He added that “staying away’’ from the whole debate might be the best alternative.

“Fighting this war is not going to go anywhere,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m not a scientist, they’re not a scientist, we’re not going to come to a consensus. I just put in the work.”

A decade ago, long before he was convicted in the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius was effectively banned from open competition by the International Association of Athletics Federations. The group in 2007 prohibited any device that “incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage.”

After further testing at Sport University Cologne, in Germany, on behalf of the I.A.A.F., a report concluded that Pistorius’s legs were using 25 percent less energy than those of “able-bodied” runners. He was declared ineligible for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

That ban was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, after further testing at Rice University resulted in a paper for the Journal of Applied Physiology contending that Pistorius was “mechanically dissimilar” to competitors racing on legs, moving his body differently.

Even the scientists involved in the Rice study could not come to complete agreement, however. According to a report in Scientific American, Peter Weyand, a physiologist at Southern Methodist University, believed Pistorius had a mechanical edge. A biomechanics expert, Rodger Kram from the University of Colorado, contended that Pistorius’s artificial limbs created as many problems as advantages.

The court ruled that the testing in Cologne had not factored in the disadvantages of Pistorius’s motion around a curve, or his problems at the start of a race. (These are also the elements of every competition that present the greatest challenges to Woodhall.) Pistorius was eventually selected to participate for South Africa in the 2012 Olympics in London.

Read the full story.

Culture, Society & Family Mind & Brain Researcher news

Two faculty win NEH fellowships to study music and human brain; quest for Kurdish state

The National Endowment for the Humanities 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 at SMU 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.”

Ates, associate professor in the Clements Department of History, 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.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

This is the first time since 2010 that two awards were granted to SMU faculty members within the same funding cycle. More recently, history professor Alexis McCrossen received the fellowship in 2015 and assistant professor of English Timothy Cassedy earned it in 2014.

“NEH fellowships are among the most competitive humanities research opportunities in the nation, with a funding rate of approximately seven percent,” said Meadows Dean Sam Holland. “We are delighted that Zach has won this recognition, which is significant for the Meadows Music Division and reflects the growing visibility and stature of SMU on the national research stage.”

“Recognition from the NEH reinforces that our faculty garner national and international recognition for their research,” said Dedman Dean Thomas DiPiero. “Professor Ates’ work is very timely as the world struggles to determine how best to address our needs for greater intercultural understanding.”

Wallmark teaches courses in American popular music, including opera history and the psychology of music, and serves as director of Meadows’ new MuSci Lab, an interdisciplinary research group and lab facility dedicated to the scientific study of music. His first book, Timbre and Musical Meaning, is under contract with Oxford University Press. He will be combining his NEH support with a sabbatical from Meadows for a full year of dedicated research and writing time.

Ates’ research focuses on Ottoman-Iranian relations, Kurdish history, borderlands and the borderland peoples, and the history of sectarianism in the Middle East. His first book Tunalı Hilmi Bey: Osmanlıdan Cumhuriyet’e Bir Aydın, (Istanbul: Iletişim Yayınları, 2009), examines competing projects of Ottoman intellectuals to keep the disparate parts of the Empire together, as well as their responses to the age of nationalism and the birth of the Turkish Republic. Partially based on his award-winning dissertation, his second book, Ottoman-Iranian Borderlands: Making a Boundary (Cambridge University Press, 2013) discusses the making of the boundaries that modern states of Iraq, Turkey and Iran share.

Energy & Matter

SMU scientists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs discovery

Higgs bosonSMU’s experimental physics group played a pivotal role in discovering the Higgs boson — the particle that proves the theory for which two scientists have received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize to theorists Peter W. Higgs and François Englert to recognize their work developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass. U.S. scientists played a significant role in advancing the theory and in discovering the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field, the Higgs boson.

Culture, Society & Family Health & Medicine Learning & Education Mind & Brain

Study finds that some depressed adolescents are at higher risk for developing anxiety

Findings suggest mental health providers could target adolescents who are most at risk, providing treatment aimed at early intervention

Kouros, SMU, depression, anxiety

Some adolescents who suffer with symptoms of depression also may be at risk for developing anxiety, according to a new study of children’s mental health.

The study found that among youth who have symptoms of depression, the risk is most severe for those who have one or more of three risk factors, said psychologist Chrystyna D. Kouros, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, who led the study.

Specifically, those who are most vulnerable are those who have a pessimistic outlook toward events and circumstances in their lives; those who have mothers with a history of an anxiety disorder; or those who report that the quality of their family relationships is poor, Kouros said.

A depressed adolescent with any one of those circumstances is more at risk for developing anxiety, the researchers found.

Adolescents with one or more risk factors can be targeted for intervention
The findings suggest that mental health professionals could target adolescents with those risk factors. Early intervention might prevent anxiety from developing, Kouros said.

“Depression or anxiety can be debilitating in itself,” said Kouros, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Psychology. “Combined, however, they are an even bigger threat to a child’s well-being. That’s particularly the case during adolescence, when pre-teens and teens are concerned about fitting in with their peers. Anxiety can manifest as social phobia, in which kids are afraid to interact with friends and teachers, or in school refusal, in which children try to avoid going to school.”

The findings are reported in Development and Psychopathology. The study, “Dynamic temporal relations between anxious and depressive symptoms across adolescence,” appears on the journal’s web site at

Kouros co-authored the research with psychiatrist Susanna Quasem and psychologist Judy Garber, both of Vanderbilt University. Data for the study were collected by Garber, a Vanderbilt professor of psychology and human development.

Study confirms previous link of anxiety elevating to depression, finds new link of depression elevating to anxiety
The finding was based on data from 240 children from metropolitan public schools and their mothers, all of whom were assessed annually for six years. The children were followed during the important developmental period from sixth grade through 12th grade. The study was evenly divided between boys and girls.

Consistent with previous research, the authors found also that “symptoms of anxiety were a robust predictor of subsequent elevations in depressive symptoms over time in adolescents.” That link has been known for some time, Kouros said, and the current study confirmed it.

Less well understood by researchers, however, has been the link between depressive symptoms developing further into elevated anxiety, she said.

“The current study showed that depressive symptoms were followed by elevations in anxious symptoms for a subset of youth who had mothers with a history of anxiety, reported low family relationship quality, or had a more negative attributional style,” the authors reported.

Moreover, at-risk youth are likely to have more than one of these vulnerability factors. More research is needed to examine how the various risk factors work together in either a cumulative or interactive way, the authors said.

The authors suggested that early prevention efforts could be effective for depressed children when the risk factors are present.

“Age 10 to age 16 is a key developmental period, because around puberty is when we tend to see depression rates in children rise, especially among girls,” Kouros said. “The findings from this study can help adults who work with depressed youth to target those who are most at risk for developing anxiety too.” — Margaret Allen

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