The field of sport sciences and human motion analysis offers a far-ranging, diverse terrain for research, as illustrated by the work of doctoral students at Université Paris-Saclay. On January 16, 2019, the international workshop on physical ergonomics and human motion analysis hosted by the department of Sciences and Techniques of Sports and Physical Activities (a.k.a. "STAPS") at Université Paris-Sud offered a glimpse into their work.
So you thought that sports sciences only dealt with training athletes? Wrong! STAPS researchers cover a broad array of study fields including human motions, the psychology of high-stress situations (e.g. competitions), the adaptation of sports to the elderly or disabled, the analysis of sports event marketing and the social impacts of sports. Let's look at a few of the research projects underway at Université Paris-Sud, a member of Université Paris-Saclay.
The first example involves an exoskeleton, a valuable tool for studying human motions. An exoskeleton is a powered framework worn on a human limb to increase strength or relieve the strain of performing particular movements. "We're interested in how the brain controls movement," says Simon Bastide, a doctoral student at CIAMS, a lab dedicated to complexity, innovation, motor and sport activities. "We used an arm exoskeleton, which compensates for its own weight, but has inertia. A motion made while one is wearing the exoskeleton takes no more effort than if one is not wearing it, but that motion will be slowed. When we put a weight into our human subject's hand, the robotic arm compensated for the weight. We looked at how the subject adapted to this situation, which presented the brain with a conflict." According to their findings, exoskeleton wearers adapt quickly, but their motions differ from those of non-wearers.
No subject is too trivial for researchers. Belly-dancing, anyone? As a matter of fact, this ultra-complicated form of oriental dance takes about a decade to master. A skilled oriental dancer needs to perform ample, symmetrical hip circles and pelvic rotations very rapidly without moving the rest of her body. Anne Tournillon, a doctoral student at the CIAMS lab, used sensors to study pelvic movements in 19 experienced dancers, observing the amplitude of movements and coordination between joints. The next step will be to compare these results with those obtained for beginners.
Babies are another topic of interest. How do they learn to walk? At birth, babies are able to make walking motions, even though they don't have the necessary muscles yet. They lose this ability at about two months of age, then relearn it at about one year. Elodie Hinnekens, another doctoral student at the CIAMS lab, focuses on how other movements (e.g. crawling) may prepare babies for walking. "Our nervous system does not deal with muscles one by one, but in sets that we call modules," she observed. How do these modules appear? Apparently, they appear as part of the process of learning to walk." Elodie Hinnekens studied the movements of 25 babies from birth to first steps, using sensors to measure muscular activity and analyzing videos of their movements. Her findings seem to confirm that the movements that babies make during their first year help them learn to walk.
We asked François Cottin, head of the department of Sciences and Techniques of Sports and Physical Activities (a.k.a. STAPS) at Université Paris-Sud, to answer three questions.
How is the sports sciences program set up at Université Paris-Saclay?
F. C.: We have created a graduate school that offers a full range of master's degree courses in the field of sports sciences and human movement. We now have 250 students enrolled in our master's programs. Eventually, doctoral programs will be integrated into our offering.
What master's courses are currently available?
F. C. : There are currently three mentions and six courses in total:
What about career opportunities?
F. C. Graduates have many career options and our graduate employment rate is excellent, exceeding 80%. Potential employers include sports federations, elderly care institutions, hospitals and equipment design companies.