The following is the text of the ISB President=B9s message from the May/Jun=
1996 issue of the ISB Newsletter. Responses are welcome.


There comes a point in the development of every scientific
sub-discipline when it can be said to have clearly and demonstrably come of
age. This month, I want to spend a few minutes of your time considering
whether or not the science of Biomechanics has come of age.

The evidence for maturation probably depends on whether the
discipline is classified as a basic or applied science - and Biomechanics
certainly has elements of both. In an applied science, evidence might come
in the form of a particular technology, well substantiated by theory, that
has made its way into everyday life (such as fiber optic communication) or
into standard medical care (such as MRI). In a basic science, the evidence
might be some well recognized contribution to the body of knowledge that
deepens our understanding of the human condition (such as the human genome
project) or to some phenomenon that was previously unknown (such as reasons
for the appearance and disappearance of species during evolution).

The history of our field is relatively brief. The names of the
pioneers - Braune and Fisher, Wolff, Bernstein, Dempster, Sherrington et
al. - are well known to us all, yet one might argue that they are not on
the tip of the tongue of the average =B3scientist on the street=B2 - as, for
example, the names of Watson and Crick, Salk, and Leaky might be.

So what evidence is there for the maturation of Biomechanics? The
answer will depend both on your view of the world and, no doubt, on which
branch of this multifaceted field you are considering. Let me pose a few
challenging questions related to the different areas of interest to the ISB
that I hope will provide some debate on this issue:

Biomechanics as a Discipline Have we progressed beyond the point where
Biomechanics could be said to be an array of techniques in search of a

Orthopaedic Biomechanics: Has Biomechanics made a difference in the
treatment of bone and joint diseases and in preventing the burden of this
group of diseases? Is surgical practice different today because of
Biomechanics? Do we now have a clear understanding of the mechanics of
hard and soft tissues such that future developments will be in the nature
of refinements to present theory?

=46unctional Anatomy: Have we added markedly to the understanding of
human and animal function beyond the =B3armchair=B2 Biomechanics of the earl=
and mid 20th century?

Rehabilitation Biomechanics: The perennial questions here are: -Is gait
analysis useful in the assessment of locomotor function? Does it change
the outcome for the patient? Also, are the treatments currently being used
in rehabilitation firmly grounded in theory and experiment developed by the
science of Biomechanics? Have advances in prosthetic and assistive
technology been led by scientists or practitioners?

Sport Biomechanics: Is sports equipment better and safer than it was 20
years ago? Is the performance of sport better and safer today because of
the involvement of sport biomechanists? Have technical advances been made
by athletes and coaches or have they been made by scientists?

Ergonomics: Is the workplace safer and are there fewer injuries today
as a result of the efforts of industrial biomechanists? Has Biomechanics
had an impact on policy and job training?

Medical Biomechanics: Has Biomechanics contributed to a better
understanding of organ function and to successful organ replacements which
improve and extend life?

Electromyographic Kinesiology: Has Biomechanics deepened our understanding
of neuromuscular function and disorders and has this knowledge made its way
into practice? Are most surgeons aware of findings regarding muscle
mechanics and do they apply this knowledge during reconstructive

Motor Control: Do we yet have a clear understanding of the manner in which
voluntary movements are controlled and has Biomechanics made a difference?
Has dynamical systems theory really made a contribution? Has the evaluation
and treatment of movement disorders benefited from the results of
scientific study? Have we made an impact on reducing falls in the elderly?

The debate over maturation of our discipline has a number of
purposes. On one level, it gives each biomechanist pause for thought to
consider if her or his contribution is appropriately directed. We could
all apply our scientific energies in an almost infinite number of
directions, and it is worthwhile to occasionally stop and ask ourselves =B3I=
this the most important contribution that I can make?=B2. On another level=
it is more than simply an introspective or intellectual exercise. In a
recent issue of Science (vol 272, 19 April 1995, 342-343), the draconian
cuts in a number of graduate programs at the University of Rhode Island in
the U.S. was chronicled. As has happened recently at so many universities
throughout the world, programs thought to be less than pivotal have been
closed - and at URI, this included some =B3giants=B2 of the academic scene s=
as statistics, geology, and industrial engineering. In the present
economic climate, it behooves us to examine our own place and purpose
before someone else does it for us! A third reason for such reflection is
that it has the potential to define a research agenda for the future.

Let me know by Email ( your views and examples of how
Biomechanics has made a difference. You might also have more compelling
criteria against which we should judge ourselves. I will post a summary of
your views on BIOMCH-L and on the ISB Web page
( This could turn out to be a useful
document for a number of purposes: it will describe where we have been,
where we are, and where we would like to be.

Peter Cavanagh
Center for Locomotion Studies
Penn State University
University Park
PA 16802 USA
Voice +1 814 865 1972
=46AX +1 814 863 4755

Peter Cavanagh
Center for Locomotion Studies
Penn State University
University Park
PA 16802 USA
Voice +1 814 865 1972
=46AX +1 814 863 4755