PULLMAN – Anita Vasavada, assistant professor of bioengineering at WSU’s College of Engineering and Architecture, recently received an NSF CAREER grant to examine postural stability of the head and neck.
With this five-year $486,522 grant, Vasavada and her research team will study how the activation of neck muscles complements passive tissue stiffness to achieve postural stability. Neck muscles are important for both static postural stability (i.e., holding up the head) and restoring head posture under dynamic conditions, such as those that might occur during a blow to the head or an automobile accident.  When muscles are unable to stabilize the head, it can lead to injury and chronic neck pain.

“This grant will give us a better foundation for preventing and treating neck injury,” Vasavada said. “We don’t know much about how the neck muscles support the head, which is important in understanding chronic neck pain and injury.”

In collaboration with the CREAM (Culturally Relevant Engineering Applications in Mathematics) program, Vasavada will also take this research into high school classrooms in the Pullman, Pasco and Omak school districts. She and her students will develop physical models of the head and neck system to illustrate how mathematics and physics are used in biomechanical analyses of neck injury and its prevention. 

“This is a good way to teach topics like trigonometry and rotational motion,” she said. “It should be interesting (to the students) as head and neck injury does affect them disproportionately relative to adults.” 

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education.