• Amputee athletes competing. Photo credit: Sciencealert.comAmputee athletes competing. Photo credit: Sciencealert.com

PhD student developing smarter prosthetic to make athletes faster

A PhD Engineering student at UNSW is working on new ways to make prosthetics for world-class athletes.  Stacey Rigney is working with the Australian Institute of Sport and the Australian Paralympian team to find out exactly how to use existing prosthetics to make amputees even faster than they already are.

Prosthetic limbs have been used in competition since the late ‘80s, most of the research on them has focused on how to make them stronger and lighter, but there’s still very little understanding of how they affect the gait of amputees, and also how they should be fitted for maximum performance.

Rigney explained: "Rather than trying to design a new prosthesis, I’m trying to model its behaviour. We don’t know a lot about how they behave. I’m trying to develop a mathematical behavioural model for the prosthesis when it deforms and returns the energy back."  She is examining the elastic continuum mechanics using software to help calculate the force impacting on the prosthetic, as well as model the movement of the muscles.

The software allows Rigney to run simulations, changing the angles of the prosthetic to see how it impacts the athlete’s gait, and whether that could make them faster as a result.

Stacey Rigney is studying her PhD at UNSW Australia, you can find out more about research degrees in Australia and New Zealand here, or contact Study Options for more information.

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