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NU researchers garner Natural Science and Engineering grants


​l-r: Dr. Steven Arnocky, Daryl Tjin, Kevin O'Reily (Lab  tecnician/demonstration personell), Dr. Aaron Kociolec
​l-r: Dr. Steven Arnocky, Daryl Tjin, Kevin O'Reily (Lab 
tecnician/demonstration personell), Dr. Aaron Kociolec

Researchers at Nipissing University have earned $152,500 in grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to assist in leading-edge research with the potential to benefit all Canadians.

Dr. Aaron Kociolek, assistant professor in the School of Physical and Health Education, earned $115,000 over five years for his project: Understanding neuromusculoskeletal interactions underlying biomechanics and control of the human hand.

Dr. Steven Arnocky, associate professor of Psychology, earned $20,000 over two years for his project: Live long or propagate: Exploring life history trade offs between immunocompetence and reproductive effort in humans.

Daryl Tjin, Master of Kinesiology student earned a one-year Canada Graduate Scholarship worth $17,500 for her research: The effects of deception in augmenting exercise performance in humans in atypical environmental conditions.

Anthony Rota, Member of Parliament for Nipissing-Timiskaming, announced the funding on Thursday, October 12, in Nipissing’s Biomechanics and Ergonomics Laboratory.

"Nipissing University thanks the Federal government and NSERC for this investment in our faculty, our students and our university,” said Dr. Mike DeGagné, Nipissing University president and vice-chancellor. “In the midst of our 25th anniversary this year, Nipissing is very proud of the research culture that is blossoming here. Research has the power to transform our lives and our world and as Canadians we can be proud that our government is dedicated to supporting our researchers."

"On behalf of my colleagues, Dr. Steven Arnocky and Ms. Daryl Tjin, I offer thanks to NSERC and the federal government for this investment in our research. Investments such as this allow us to explore ideas and create knowledge for the benefit all Canadians,” said Dr. Kociolek. “Students also benefit directly through increased access to key research methodology and leading-edge equipment, making them well-prepared for future success in graduate programs and/or research in private industry."

“I commend Nipissing’s three grant recipients fort their incredible achievements and look forward to their many future successes,” said Mr. Rota. “This government is committed to supporting researchers as they make the breakthroughs that provide us with new knowledge and innovations and ensure generations to come acquire the necessary skills for the jobs of tomorrow.”

For more information about NSERC, please visit their website.

Background

Dr. Aaron Kociolek: Understanding neuromusculoskeletal interactions underlying biomechanics and control of the human hand

Dexterous hand function is a defining feature of the human identity. The hand is vitally important in nearly all activities of daily living, from getting dressed in the morning to preparing dinner in the evening. The fully opposable thumb is especially crucial to hand function, enabling interaction with objects and tools via gripping or pinching. While the hand’s versatility is a central theme in modern human ingenuity, its complex anatomy challenges our understanding of mechanical function and neuromuscular control. Successful performance of a hand-intensive task ultimately relies on the seamless interaction of neurophysiological (e.g. sensory and motor nerves) and biomechanical apparatus (e.g. muscles and tendons). However, there is an immense need to investigate how these systems interact with each other to preserve hand function, especially during complex occupational tasks that require online control of postures and grip forces. My research will use an innovative, inter-disciplinary approach to investigate hand biomechanics and neuromuscular control. This research will be organized in three themes: (1) Determining mechanical interactions; (2) Elucidating links between biomechanics and neurophysiology by experimentally manipulating sensorimotor pathways; (3) Developing a computer model capable of representing neuromusculoskeletal coupling within the hand.

The first theme will investigate mechanical inter-relationships between musculoskeletal structures of the hand. Participants will perform occupationally relevant hand activities. Measurements will include grip forces using a force sensor, joint angles via motion capture, and muscle activity from fine-wire EMG, with a focus on load sharing between the extrinsic (large) and intrinsic (small) hand muscles. Additional studies will use electrical stimulation to elicit thumb muscle contractions.

Ultrasound will assess concurrent changes in the size and shape of the carpal tunnel (wrist) as well as mechanical properties of the anatomical structures passing through the wrist. The second theme will focus on sensorimotor integration and adaptation when neurophysiological mechanisms are altered for a short time. Specifically, biomechanical hand function will be assessed before, during, and after a compressive force is applied to the wrist. Studies in this theme will also experimentally manipulate visual feedback to determine the integrated effects of sensory input on biomechanical function and neuromuscular control. The third theme will develop a computer model of the hand to combine data gathered from the first and second research themes. This innovative research will assess redundancies across biological systems, informing several important areas such as industrial engineering and ergonomics (e.g. tool design) to improve work performance and efficiency.

Dr. Steven Arnocky: Live long or propagate: Exploring life history trade offs between immunocompetence and reproductive effort in humans

Evolutionary hypotheses make very specific predictions about the role of immunocompetence in relation to human behavior and morphological development. Life History (LH) Theory, for example, predicts individual differences in the allocation of finite energetic resources toward mutually exclusive components of fitness, whereby a "slow" LH invokes greater investment in immunocompetence, and a "fast" LH invokes greater investment in reproductive effort. Similarly, the immunocompetence handicapping hypothesis predicts that certain morphological traits, such as sexually-dimorphic faces and voices, which tend to be attractive to members of the opposite sex, serve as signals to an individual's underlying immunocompetence. From this view, only the healthiest of humans can "afford" the immunosuppressing effects associated with developing these features, which are often modulated by androgen (especially Testosterone) production. Broadly, hypotheses surrounding immunocompetence are so entrenched in evolutionary psychology and biology that they are often invoked as explanations of diverse human behaviour (aggression and risk-taking) and sexuality (e.g., why certain physical features are considered sexually attractive and why individuals differ in these features). Nevertheless, evidence for links between immune function, morphology, and behavior are virtually non-existent; creating a tremendous gap in the literature relating core evolutionary hypotheses to human evolution. The proposed research addresses these gaps across three interrelated facets of inquiry: 1) immune function as a causal influence of Life History, 2) immune function as a correlate of morphological development, and 3) perceptual capacity to detect immunocompetence. Using a novel pharmacological immunosuppression paradigm, I will be the first to experimentally examine possible effects (or lack thereof) of reduced immune function upon "fast" LH variables (aggression, risk-taking, and sociosexuality) in order to inform the question of whether immunological challenge prompts individual differences in these behaviors. This research will be the first to examine a diverse set of immune markers in relation to common sexually-dimorphic features assumed to be subjected to immunocompetence handicapping - facial and vocal sexual dimorphism. Finally, I will conduct two related studies exploring the question of whether individuals can determine immunocompetence from static sexually-dimorphic facial cues, and if so, which specific features do they rely on to make such judgements? The proposed research will integrate theory and methodology from social experimental psychology, neuroendocrinology, pharmacology, and cognitive psychology toward the ultimate goal of understanding and detailing the basic immunological mechanisms underlying evolutionarily-relevant human phenotypic development.

Daryl Tjin: The effects of deception in augmenting exercise performance in humans in atypical environmental conditions

Physiological factors which have been implicated to contribute to fatigue and ‘limit’ human maximal (i.e. all out) exercise performance range from central (e.g. failure of the brain to recruit forceful muscle contractions) to peripheral (e.g. failure of the contractile proteins in the muscle itself). One of the most compelling arguments supporting the notion that fatigue is predominantly ‘centrally’ based is found in the results of previous research studies which have consistently reported that ‘deceptive’ feedback (e.g. telling people they are performing better than they actually are) will actually delay fatigue and improve cycling performance. However, the ability to ‘deceive’ participants into superior performances appears to disappear when exercise is performed in a hot environment. No clear understanding of the fatigue mechanism responsible in this case exists.

Therefore, the purpose of my proposed research is: 1) to determine under what environmental conditions deception will not augment human exercise performance; and 2) what physiological mechanism(s) explain the occurrence of fatigue during intense exercise in these conditions. By administering multiple cycling time trials in neutral (21°C), warm (28°C), and hot (35°C) environmental conditions, while providing either accurate or deceptive (i.e. 2% faster) feedback of baseline performance, physiological and performance variables at various temperatures can be compared in conditions of accurate versus deceptive feedback. These results will improve current understanding of the mechanisms related to fatigue while exercising in hot environments specifically, and of the relationship between central and peripheral fatigue in general.

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