Neuromechanics | Exercise and Sport Science | Graduate Programs


Neuromechanics at Oregon State University combines the classic sub-disciplines of biomechanics and motor control. Specifically, we are interested in how the nervous system and musculoskeletal system work together to produce human movement and the relationships between specific movement patterns and musculoskeletal health.

Study of neuromechanics at OSU is integrated with exercise physiology within the Biophysical Kinesiology concentration of the degree in Kinesiology. Both MS and PhD options are offered (Please be sure to read the “Information for Graduate Applicants” below). Our aim is that students within this graduate concentration develop a holistic understanding of the biological and physical aspects of human movement in the greater context of public health. Students will also gain training and practical experience in the basic tools and methods needed to be successful in researching human movement, whether in clinical, occupational, or sport applications. Students’ programs of study are tailored to meet individual interests. Coursework may encompass biomechanics, motor control, exercise physiology, research methods, public health, psychosocial kinesiology, engineering, and the life sciences.

Additionally, the aim of the PhD option is to develop academic scholars specifically trained to independently design, conduct, and disseminate cutting-edge research. As such, there is a heavy emphasis on research training, as well as on academic professional development.


Research Agenda

Research in neuromechanics at OSU currently focuses on clinical and ergonomic applications of biomechanics and motor control, with an emphasis on injury prevention. Both experimental and modeling approaches are used. Research projects of the faculty and their associated graduate students generally fall into one of the following areas:

  1. Prevention of lower extremity injury
    Lower extremity injuries commonly occur during physical activity, with significant joint injuries negatively impacting long-term joint health. We conduct laboratory-based studies in which we investigate the relationships between movement patterns that are associated with greater injury risk and modifiable factors such as explosive strength and fatigue resistance. We also work to improve population health by focusing on increasing the implementation of best practices and injury prevention programs in the community.
  2. Understanding and preventing falls and fall-related fractures
    Falls and fall-related fractures are serious health concerns in older adults. We are therefore studying the influence of neuromechanical factors, such as gait patterns, protective stepping, and muscle strength, on the loss and recovery of balance. We are also studying the biomechanics of exercise-based interventions against osteoporosis.
  3. Safer transfers of people with mobility disabilities
    To travel by aircraft or automobile, many people with mobility disabilities must transfer between a wheelchair and a vehicle seat. We are conducting research aimed at reducing the risks of injury during these transfers, with particular focus on risk factors for back injury to those assisting with the transfer.

    Recent Doctoral, Master’s, and undergraduate Honors College thesis/dissertation topics have included:

    • Spinal motor control adaptation to explosive strength training (C. Stone, MS, 2015; Advisor: Johnson)
    • The influence of hip abduction, extension, and external rotation rate of torque development on frontal-plane biomechanics during single-leg jump-cuts (B. Cronin, MS, 2015; Advisor: Norcross)
    • The effect of exercise on the biomechanical determinants of knee energy absorption during single-leg jump-cuts (A. Pollard, MS, 2015; Advisor: Norcross)
    • The influence of knee extension rate of torque development on sagittal plane knee biomechanics during landing (R. Almog, BS, 2015; Advisor: Norcross)
    • The effects of a bodyweight only training program on physical self-perceptions (M. Oenning, BS, 2015; Advisor: Johnson)
    • Sex differences in triple extensor rate of torque development may explain variance in vertical jump performance (D. Wile, BS, 2015; Advisor: Norcross)
    • The influence of external focus of attention feedback on ACL injury related landing biomechanics (J. Weilbrenner, BS, 2014; Advisor: Norcross)
    • Hip loading while performing forward and side lunges (J. Zorn, BS, 2014; Advisor: Pavol)
    • A comparison of two different balance programs (J. Eisenhard, MS, 2013; Advisor: Johnson)
    • The relationship between rate of torque development of the triple extensors at different time intervals (T. Kitagawa, MS, 2013; Advisor: Johnson)
    • The effects of plyometrics on neuromuscular control (J. Doeringer, PhD, 2013; Advisor: Hoffman)
    • Hip loading during the squat exercise (G. Haberly, MS, 2013; Advisor: Pavol)
    • Effects of combining of upper and lower body resistance training on lumbar loading (E. Doran, MS, 2013; Advisor: Pavol)
    • Effects of long-term use of ankle taping on balance (S. McGregor, BS, 2013; Advisor: Pavol)
    • Evaluating balance and strength of older adult women in exercise programs (M. Dinger, MS, 2013; Advisor: Johnson)
    • The effects of sex and task on biomechanical factors related to ACL injury (M. Curren, BS, 2013; Advisor: Norcross)
    • Spinal reflex control in healthy and ACL-injured women during a distracting task (E. Perrier, PhD, 2011; Advisor: Hoffman)

    Collaborative research has also been conducted with OSU students and faculty in Movement Studies in Disability, the Skeletal Biology Laboratory, Public Health, the National Center for Accessible Transportation, and Mechanical Engineering.

    Past and current research projects have been supported by agencies that include the U.S. Department of Education (NIDRR), the National Institutes of Health, National Athletic Trainers’ Association Research and Education Foundation, and the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, as well as through the OSU Research Office, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and Center for Healthy Aging Research.

    Our research results have been disseminated though numerous publications and at the national conferences of such organizations as the American Society of Biomechanics, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.


    Research Laboratories

    Research activities in neuromechanics are conducted in two laboratory spaces. Faculty and students in neuromechanics are able to use both of these spaces and the research equipment they house.

    Biomechanics LaboratoryThe Biomechanics Laboratory is a 2000 square-foot, multi-purpose research space located on the ground floor of the Women’s Building. It includes an open data collection area with adequate dimensions (35’ x 25’ x 12’) for studying a wide variety of activities, with attached workspaces for strength testing, data analysis, and device fabrication/storage.

    Located across the hallway is a second, 600 square-foot laboratory space used for sensorimotor testing and data analysis.

    The research equipment within these laboratories encompasses a full array of tools for the study of neuromechanics, including:

      • Vicon 9-camera optical motion capture system
      • Three Bertec force platforms with multiple mounting configurations
      • Noraxon 16-channel telemetered electromyography system
      • Biopac electromyography system
      • Instrumented, ceiling-mounted safety harness system
      • Biodex System 3 Isokinetic Dynamometer
      • Neurocom Smart Balance Master
      • Multiple Biopac data collection systems
      • Grass S88 Stimulators
      • Motion Monitor data collection and analysis system
      • AnyBody biomechanical modeling software
      • Computers with data acquisition, control, and data analysis capabilities


      Neuromechanics Faculty

      Mike Pavol, PhD
      Associate Professor, Kinesiology. Research interests are in the neuromechanics of falls and fracture prevention in older adults, and in the biomechanics of transfers of people with mobility disabilities.

      Marc Norcross, PhD, ATC
      Assistant Professor, Kinesiology. Current research focus is the quantification of lower extremity energy absorption during landing in an effort to both understand non-contact ACL injury mechanisms and identify modifiable biomechanical factors that should be targeted in ACL injury prevention programs.

      Sam Johnson, PhD, ATC, CSCS
      Clinical Assistant Professor, Kinesiology. Research focus is on understanding underlying neural mechanisms for improving explosive muscle performance, particularly as it relates to injury prevention and athletic performance.


      Affiliated Faculty

      Mark Hoffman, PhD, ATC, FACSM
      Vice Provost for International Programs, Oregon State University. Research focus is in the study of the sensory and motor systems of the human body in an attempt to gain a better understanding of their mechanisms for the promotion of human movement, physical activity, and the prevention of injury.

      Christine Pollard, PhD, PT
      Associate Professor, Kinesiology, OSU-Cascades. Current research foci are: 1) identifying potential mechanisms underlying the disproportionate incidence of ACL injuries in female athletes, 2) identifying biomechanical changes at the knee in individuals post-ACL reconstruction, 3) examining the influence of knee bracing on lower extremity mechanics, and 4) examining the influence of various footwear on running mechanics. The majority of Dr. Pollard’s research is conducted at the FORCE lab in Bend, OR.

      Kim Hannigan, PhD, ATC
      Clinical Associate Professor, Kinesiology. Research interests are in the area of biomechanics of motion as it relates to pathological conditions of the foot. Projects include the comparison of static clinical exam assessments to the kinematic three-dimensional evaluation of dynamic foot motion.


      Information for Graduate Applicants

      Graduate students in neuromechanics are encouraged to perform their thesis/dissertation research in their major professor’s areas of research focus. Thus, before applying, individuals should contact the specific faculty member(s) with whom they are interested in conducting their research, as the preferred qualifications and capacity to accept new students may differ between faculty members. Graduate assistantships are typically available to highly qualified students.