Feb. 26, 2020

Ryan Schroeder

Fusing interests to improve musculoskeletal function

When Dr. Ryan Schroeder, PhD ’20, returned to school as an engineering student, he knew he wanted to work at the forefront of innovative technology.

“At the time, I was particularly interested in robotics, nutrition and longevity,” says Ryan. “Eventually, I realized I could fuse these interests by focusing on technologies that integrate robotics with human health.”

In January 2020, Ryan completed his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering at the Cumming School of Medicine. During his program, he studied how healthy humans interact with devices and machines as they walk or run.

Ryan became part of a research team that studied the way individuals in Southeast Asia carry heavy loads such as soil, equipment and produce, using flexible bamboo poles. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, shows that the poles potentially allow people to carry heavy loads without expending as much energy as they would if they used a typical store-bought backpack. Ryan and his team also tested theories regarding how people control their body movements in unusual situations.

“We used a system of electric motors to rhythmically pull and tug on individuals in a vertical direction as they walked on a treadmill,” says Ryan. “We applied a theoretical model to predict how people might respond in such an odd circumstance and then used the device to see if participants did what the model predicted.”

“Overall, participants learned to walk at the same frequency as the pulling and tugging,” adds Ryan. “But they interacted with the forces somewhat differently than expected. We would like to collect more data to understand this in the future.”

In his spare time, Ryan enjoys following the NFL as an avid fan of the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. He also loves to hike, explore the mountains and compose music on his keyboards. Ryan and his wife currently sing in a community choir.

“Several years ago, I was a professional touring musician,” says Ryan. “Clearly, I decided to make a radical career change. I love music and it’s still a big part of my life, but my current goal is to improve musculoskeletal function. I hope to one day lead a research lab that studies how humans and machines interact, and design devices that improve human performance in sport and everyday activity.”