Could an elephant stand on its hind legs and walk upright? There’s a lot of excitement surrounding these questions. This new research, however, isn’t about levitation. It’s not trying to test whether humans can walk on their hind legs, either. But the researchers’ goal is to get a better grasp on how the brain and spine respond to movement.
Their goal is to find out how the human body responds to movement. For some years, researchers have been interested in whether the brain can sense and respond to movement. It was only in the ’90s that scientists started to use computer technology to visualize the activity of the brain in real time. But these technologies still can’t be used in a way to measure the human body from the ground. There are a couple of possible ways to get a better handle on human bodies and how they respond to movements, but most of these efforts haven’t had much luck.
A group of researchers at Brigham Young University has come up with a way to look at the human body from above. Their theory says that it’s possible to fly on the legs of an animal — such as the elephant — and the brain would sense and respond to the movement. Their study appears in Nature’s online print journal, Scientific Reports.
“It’s a good idea to study things from above because we may be able to get closer to the human body,” said Michael Brown, associate professor of kinesiology and sports medicine at Brigham Young University, who oversaw the study. “Human anatomy and how the brain interacts with the skeleton would help us know more about how movements impact humans.”
For their study, Brown’s group studied how four-legged animals — like the kangaroo — respond to gravity changes. If a kangaroo is jumping over a height ladder, a decrease in gravity affects its stance but doesn’t change its stride — as a jump from a ladder does. If a human is doing an obstacle course, gravity decreases their speed but doesn’t affect their stance — as on a course.
So Brown and colleagues looked at the response properties of the four-and-a-half-foot kangaroo during a jump from the base of three-foot-high wall to the top of its jump, from the same height. (They included a third, one-foot-high wall because the kangaroo’s knees are spread wide during flight and there’s less ground for it to stand on.) The team used an electromagnetic field (EMF) to stimulate the k
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