Cory Hecht Explores Human Body Movements
“The main goal of my research was to use a mathematical lens to better understand how our brain and nervous system function with respect to movement and movement patterns,” explains Cory Hecht, a 2017 graduate with majors in math and BOS (Business, Organizations & Society).
Recently, he began a four-month internship at IFAST (Indianapolis Fitness & Sports Training) and entered a Doctor of Physical Therapy program in Fall 2018.
"Is there something you are passionate about? One of the driving forces behind your research will be your intrinsic motivation to learn more about the subject. If you have something you think is worth pursuing and want to learn more, absolutely go for it."
As a Marshall Scholar, Cory received a grant and was able to create his own research project with the help of advisor and math Associate Professor Christina Weaver. Their project, “A Scientific Approach to a Movement-Based Lifestyle,” used dynamical systems theory, a branch of mathematics that seeks to enhance understanding of complex behaviors, such as human movement. Cory extracted the major themes from the models he studied and created general principles that can enhance movement protocols in a clinical setting or for one’s own movement practice, such as an exercise program.
"This research was a great way to see how the mathematics we covered in class (MAT471, Nonlinear Dynamics) relates to Cory's broader interests. He took on this project after I taught MAT471 for the first time," says Prof. Weaver, "so it was exciting to see that, right away, one of my students was using the course material to think about a passion of his own, fitness and body motion, in a new way."
“The biggest takeaway from the project was learning how to take something complex, that you have been studying for a while, and presenting it in a way that an audience with no background on the subject can understand,” Cory remarks. “As a physical therapist, I will have to effectively communicate rehabilitation protocols as well as exercises to my patients in a way they both understand and are motivated by. Using scientific jargon will not always be the best approach. This research project was good practice in framing complicated material in a way a diverse group can understand and take something away from.”
Says Cory, “During this project I had to come up with my own questions I wanted more concrete answers to, which I found were frequently changing throughout the course of the project. I then researched and put it together in a way that coincided with the end goals of the project. This was a daunting task at first, but has helped me learn how to work more independently and tackle more open-ended questions that do not have a definitive starting point.”
"Once the goal is established, do not be afraid of asking the big open-ended questions in an attempt to get closer to an answer."
The main application that can benefit from this research occurs in the approach to addressing movement issues that lead to pain or injuries. “Many of the models we studied looked at how movement patterns can change depending on our environment, intentions and learning,” describes Cory. “This provided some insight into how each individual’s brain and nervous system changes as they learn or recreate movement patterns. Essentially, all of our brains are wired differently based on the movements we’ve performed throughout our lives. As a more comprehensive understanding of this is established on both a macroscopic (actual movement) and microscopic (tissue, cellular, muscular, etc.) level, more effective and individualized protocols can continue to be implemented to help people move more efficiently and increase their bodies longevity. The end goal is to live a pain-free and healthy life for as a long as possible.”
Prof. Weaver comments, "Research relationships like this are a wonderful way for me to unite who I am as a classroom teacher with who I am as a researcher. It also helps me to see the mathematics with fresh eyes, and sometimes even understand it better. And it is so rewarding to see a student build their own connections between mathematics and the real world!
"Normally, when students have approached me for research projects," remarks the math professor, "the projects have been directly related to my own research. The Marshall Fellows Program enables students to design projects that fit their interests. So for the first time I encouraged Cory to design a unique project of his own. It also helped me to know Cory better. At the outset, I knew Cory as a double major in math and BOS, who was also an F&M athlete. By the end, I got to know how these majors and his interest in fitness inform his world-view. Now I'm eager to see him succeed in physical therapy school, as I know that he will!"