Carlos R. Pintos Artigas
Carlos R. Pintos Artigas is a professor of “Biomechanics” at the ISEF College of Physical Education, recently recognized by the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay. His subject is based largely on his own mathematical analyses of human movement and form, and he has been pioneering its development for over 14 years. Señor Pintos also teaches high school mathematics in Montevideo, Uruguay, since 1978, and is also an advisor to the Universitary Institute of the YMCA.
Can you explain what “biomechanics” means?
Biomechanics is a science that studies the structure and function of the living human or animal system, using the principles and methods of physics. It could perhaps be broadly defined as the science of human or animal motion.
Would you then consider it a special branch of physics?
Not really. Biomechanics as an interdisciplinary science, drawing from the subjects of mathematics, physics, anatomy and physiology. Its purpose is to try to improve and/or to optimize human performance related to the human movement.
The subject has existed for a long time-in fact you could say that the first real Biomechanician was Leonardo Da Vinci, because he applied his knowledge of mathematics and mechanics to biological problems like the motions of animals (for example, birds) and to human movement.
What are some of the modern applications of the subject?
There’s quite a long list.
To begin with, biomechanics would be a very useful thing to know if you are designing or implementing physical education or physical recreation programs for children or adults, or coaching any kind of sports. It can help you to ensure that children and athletes avoid sports injuries, and has value in designing physical rehabilitation programs. It can also be applied to ballet and other types of dance.
Along that same line, people who do research and development of many kinds of sports equipment rely on some knowledge of biomechanics, even if they do not have that name for it. For that matter, it would even apply to the design of all types of footwear.
Biomechanics has very interesting applications in paleontology, when you’re trying to understand, for example, just how the dinosaurs moved, based on an examination of the fossilized bones. From the point of view of biomechanics those bones can be thought of as levers, and so from the bones you can get an idea of how the body might have moved, taking into account its body mass and the masses of some of the parts of the body.
Similarly, biomechanics is useful in paleoanthropology: the study of the origins of humanity. You can look at the fossilized bones and at a set of footprints and determine that the creature that made them walked on two feet-as in the case of the famous hominid “Lucy”, discovered by Mary Leakey. That’s how we know that bipedal hominids existed as far back as almost 3.75 million years ago.
More generally, veterinary medicine is benefited by biomechanics because it can help the veterinarian determine what problems might exist in an animal’s structure by looking at how the animal moves. A good example is care of racehorses.
Another use would be developing and evaluating physical therapy programs for humans. And, since the movement of the body is controlled through the nervous system, a knowledge of biomechanics could also be useful for a neuroscientist who is trying to understand exactly how that control is accomplished.
But the applications of biomechanics go far beyond biology. If you are designing a piece of machinery that is going to be operated by a human being, biomechanics can help you to optimize that design. If you are creating animated movies where you want to have the characters move realistically, you will probably want to have computer animation programs that are based on biomechanics.
And of course some of the most interesting applications would be in the field of robotics and in the related field of the artificial neural networks that control the robot’s motions.
Tell us something about your own research.
I’ve done research in several different sports, particularly soccer, tennis and basketball, analyzing the motions of athletes and evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of their techniques.
Thanks to their coach, to their physical trainer, to their medical doctor and the players, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Uruguay’s basketball team just prior to the 1997 basketball world championship. For example, we did mechanical power tests on the leg extensor muscles, using a set of different kind of vertical jumps.
Since 1988 I’ve been studying and researching about theoretical aspects of Biomechanics, BioMathematics and Computer Science, like mathematical models of the human body (geometrical, numerical and analytical ), and methods of automatic recognition of anatomical landmarks in digital images, among others, in order to develop software for human motion studies.
To develop Biomechanical software organized in modules of BioKinematics and BioKinetics, that enables to capture data from video tape sequences of frames, by means of a manual and/or semiautomatic digitizing method with the aid of the computer’s mouse, to do accurate measurements, to analyze biomotion’s data, and to print results and to display kinegraphs of stick figures of 2D/3D human movement patterns, that facilitates the users ( for example my students ) to develop more accurate Biomechanical studies of human movements.
I’m also very interested in Biomechanics as a context for the teaching of mathematics at university level and earlier at high school. I have found that students have a natural and strong interest in many of the applications of biomechanics, for example in sports, and this interest can be transferred to a motivation to learn the mathematics behind those applications.
In fact, as the most important part of the course of Sports Biomechanics, at the 4th ( the last ) year of the career of Physical Education, my college students have done some significant original research themselves, including papers on : “Biomechanical analysis of a Gymnastics horse vault called Tsukahara, for females ” ; “Biomechanical comparative study of the Tennis serve and the Volleyball serve” ; “Biomechanical study of the Gymnastics : the flic-flac ” ; “Biomechanical study of Swimming : starts ” ; ” Biomechanical comparative study of the Karate and the Tai Chi ” ; ” Biomechanical study of the High Jump : the takeoff “, among others.
Can you share with us an example of your work?
Yes-I have provided an example of a biomechanics problem related to ballet, which would also be relevant to skaters, gymnasts, trampolinists, divers and astronauts, particularly when they move within an environment with zero gravity or almost zero gravity.
If you wanted a career in biomechanics, what subjects would you need to study?
Probably most important is mathematics, primarily algebra, functions, trigonometry and analytic geometry in high school, and then calculus either in high school or at university.
Next would be physics, specifically (in high school) measurement, center of mass (gravity), stability, equilibrium, kinematics, projectile behavior, kinetics, types of energy, power, conservation of momentum and energy, mechanical work, impacts, collisions, fluid statics and fluid dynamics. At university, you would to study mechanics: statics, kinematics and kinetics.
I would also recommend a strong education in biology (particularly human anatomy and physiology), in physical education, and in the computer sciences, especially programming languages (scientific and graphical), such as C and Visual Basic.
Just what are the career opportunities in this field?
Well, this is a relatively new subject, and there is still much to be discovered, so there are opportunities for those interested in doing research. As I mentioned earlier, biomechanics has applications in many fields. I believe that an understanding of this subject would give someone a great advantage whether they wanted to pursue a career in physical education, sports sciences, neuroscience, computer animation, complex systems, artificial life or robotics-and these are all fields that I think we can expect to grow strongly throughout the 21st century.
This is not an easy subject. But it is an exciting one with many potential benefits. It is my hope that teachers and students will become inspired to find out more about it, and perhaps even to join those of us who are in the fortunate position of creating it.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Only that I have been quite inspired by the example of Jaime Escalante, in your country. To my mind he is much more than a brilliant motivator and he has given us a new paradigm for education, one that has its basis in a recognition of the true abilities and values of human beings.
I would also like to express my deep gratitude to the teachers, professors and principals (directors) that let me grow in this scientific discipline, and my appreciation to my own students, both in my high school and college classes, for their collaboration, support and friendship.
Last but not least, I would like to say that I’ll be grateful forever to my family.
Thank you, Señor Pintos.
You are quite welcome. It was an honor for me.