Biomechanics is an interdisciplinary field that applies the principles of physics to biological systems to understand how organism move and interact with their surroundings. Biomechanics is concerned with everything from microscopic systems like muscle contraction in cells, all the way to large-scale, whole-body motions like a jumping cat. Biomechanics applies the laws of physics with regards to levers, pulleys and other known functions to define and understand the complicated forces involved in biological systems. A career in biomechanics means studying biological systems and learning from them or creating devices based on a combination of biological and physical principles.
History of Biomechanics
Biomechanics has a long and intricate history, reaching back to the days of Aristotle and the first philosophers. These men sought to understand the driving forces behind life, and as such, they studied how animals moved and what caused those actions. Building on their successes, the thinkers of the Renaissance added to these notions. Leonard DaVinci is still known for his works of anatomy and physiology, which incorporated some of the first math-driven biomechanics on record. Modern biomechanical engineers have followed in their footsteps.
The ideas behind biomechanics gained footing in the 1500s, with the writings of Descartes, and others that saw the world in a mechanic way. Thus was born the science of automatons, or the idea that all creatures were simply biological machines that reacted to stimuli in the same way a machine would. This idea has captivated scientists for hundreds of years, as it would give the ultimate ability to control and manipulate these machines. However, as science progressed, the complexities of the living machines became infinitely intricate. The field branched into many subdivisions.
Modern biomechanics has innumerable advantages over the early pioneers of the science. Modern technology can provide insights and measurements that science has never before been able to obtain. For instance, a greater understanding of nerve impulses came after the invention of the EEG, a test in which a computer monitors the electrical signals passed between cells. Further advances into microbiology and chemistry have revealed the internal microscopic structure of muscles. This allows biomechanical engineers to have a full and clear view of the body and how it works. These advancements have not been left to waste. New advancements in biomechanics and biotechnology are allowing for novel treatments like artificial limb and organ replacement. Not only can science produce new joints for old bodies, but the science has advanced far enough that we can now grow organs using specialized stem cells sprayed onto 3D printed models. The possibilities of biomechanics are expanding rapidly.
Careers in Biomechanics
Pathways to a career in biomechanics can vary, but almost always include engineering and biology courses. General Bachelor’s degrees are offered which provide introduction to biomechanics, but most professionals have a Master’s degree or higher. Further coursework is often needed beyond a Bachelor’s degree to understand the complex math and biology underlying the field. It is not rare for a biomechanical engineer to receive a degree in engineering and a medical doctorate. However, once the field is understood the possibilities are limitless.
Medicinal biomechanics deals with the human body, and is involved in everything from replacing limbs and organs to understanding the complex forces athletes deal with while playing sports. Orthotics and Prosthesis are the fields that deal with replacing lost or missing limbs. These scientist integrate invention with biology as they seek to reverse debilitating conditions. Others, like those who study sports biomechanics, focus on physics involved during complex sports. These professionals provide estimates for the damage being done, and ways to avoid that damage, like wearing a helmet. Still others focus on the strain of repetitive tasks. The field of ergonomics studies the body’s natural position and how stresses are created. Still others, like rehabilitation specialists, practice biomechanics to give bedridden patients zero-strain exercise.
Other scientists use biomechanics for different reasons. Understanding the physics of an animal can often lead to understandings about its role in the environment. Ecologists and other field-scientists use biomechanics to understand the different stresses on an organism. They could measure the strain a tree faces in the wind or measure the amount of friction a dolphin experiences while it is swimming. These observations can lead to understanding about the animal or ecosystem or even lead to novel devices to help humans. Modern biomechanical engineers often employ computers in their modeling. This is known as computational biomechanics and will lead to greater understanding of all biological systems. Experts in this area also have training in computer information systems to exploit the power of modern computers in their studies.
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