Most of us don’t give a second thought about the mechanics behind how we move our bodies, but as a doctoral student of biomechanics, a subspecialty within the field of exercise and sports science, Sam Masters spends countless hours in a lab at Penn State University exploring that very topic.
A devoted runner who selected TU in part on the strength of the university’s track and field team, Masters says: “Running is where my interest in biomechanics began. I wanted to lift my knees more, so I started reading biomechanics papers and thinking along the lines of an engineer. Actually, a lot of what I do in my field is related to running.”
He recalls that when not in class, he was typically doing one of two things at TU — spending time with his friends on the track team running or practicing.
Masters was impressed by TU’s exercise and sports science program and in particular, that he could develop a plan of study that put him closer to achieving a lifelong goal.
“I remember my dad telling me when I was younger that he didn’t care what my siblings and I did, but that he wished we would become doctors,” says Masters. “I’ve wanted a Ph.D. ever since then.”
With a strong aptitude for mathematics, Masters sought to complement his exercise and sports science coursework with classes offered in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, giving him the academic foundation he would need to study biomechanics at a post-graduate level.
His work at TU earned Masters a graduate assistantship to study biomechanics at Penn State University, which houses one of the nation’s top programs and one of the few laboratories in the world dedicated entirely to biomechanics research. The Columbia, Missouri, native recently completed his master’s thesis and began doctoral studies this fall. He used his remaining NCAA eligibility to compete on Penn State’s track and field team his first year there and now runs purely for enjoyment.
Though Masters hasn’t made a final decision about what he will do once he completes his doctoral work, his current passion centers on robotics. As part of his graduate research, he designs and studies robot-like walking devices that propel themselves by a phenomenon known as passive dynamic walking. He explains that studying the mechanics behind walking leads to a bette understanding of how different parts of the human body work together to help stabilize the body when a person’s foot strikes the ground.
“This is the type of research that goes into the design of prosthetics,” says Masters. “There is a big difference between what a prosthetic does and what a human limb does. The more we learn about human limbs, the better we can make prosthetics.”