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A major step forward

Queen’s Research Opportunities Funds help researcher build international team to learn more about how the structures of the foot allow for movement.

Queen’s researcher Michael Rainbow (Mechanical Engineering) is seeking to gain greater insight into the function and design of the human foot. With support from the Queen’s Research Opportunities Funds International Fund, Dr. Rainbow has made great strides in developing collaborations to further this research.

[Michael Rainbow]
Queen's mechanical engineer Michael Rainbow is partnering with researchers around the world to examine the structure of the human foot. Their project is supported by a grant from the Queen's Research Opportunities Fund. (Supplied Photo)

“The human foot is an incredibly complex structure,” says Dr. Rainbow. “Much of what we think we know about how it functions comes from examinations on cadavers. Only recently has technology advanced enough to allow us to track the movement of the bones and activation of the muscles of the foot in real time and in 3D. We’re learning that the foot is far more multifaceted and dynamic than we thought previously.”

In collaboration with researchers from the University of Queensland, INRIA in France, and Brown University, Dr. Rainbow will work to analyze the biomechanics of the arch of the foot, as well as to gain a better understanding of the structures that modulate and control the stiffness of the arch. By analyzing the movement of the individual bones, ligaments and muscles in the foot, in context with full body movement, Dr. Rainbow and his colleagues will advance understanding of the neuromuscular and mechanical function of the foot and its contributions to the human musculoskeletal system.

[Foot Render]
A rendering of the bones and support structures of the foot. By learning more about how these structure allow for movement, Dr. Rainbow and his team can assist the development of more functional prosthetics, as well as rehabilitation or injury prevention techniques. (Supplied Rendering)

“By gaining a better understanding of how the structures of the foot transfer energy during motion, we will be able to design prosthetics that function more like a foot than the current designs,” he explains. “We’ll also be able to better understand what causes common injuries – such as plantar fasciitis – with an eye on prevention and more effective treatment.”

Their research has applications in improving the design of prosthetics that can better mimic the function of the structures of a foot, as well as provide insight for podiatrists and others who study chronic injuries. Finally, by partnering with an array of diverse institutions around the globe, Dr. Rainbow is also strengthening the relationships between the Human Mobility Research Centre at Queen’s and his collaborators in the United States, Australia, and France – something he credits to the QROF.

“The support we’ve received from the Queen’s Research Opportunities Funds has been crucial to forming partnerships with institutions around the globe, and bringing top researchers together for this project,” says Dr. Rainbow.

The inaugural Queen’s Research Opportunities Funds were launched in 2015, and are awarded in four categories – the Research Leaders’ Fund, the International Fund, the Arts Fund and the Post-Doctoral Fund. The funds represent an internal investment in the research enterprise, and provide researchers and scholars financial support to accelerate their programs and research goals.

The deadline to submit a letter of intent for the 2016-2017 competition is December 1, 2016. For more information, please visit the website.