June 21, 2018 | A couple dozen school-aged girls broke into groups of four and five and spread out across the room. In each group, one girl stood in the center as the rest — armed with a pen, clipboard, paper and measuring tape — outfitted her with round, silvery, shiny markers to track their movement.
Everyone watched in amazement as the volunteer subjects had their movements shown on a television screen.
It was technology — made possible at the high-tech gait and motion-detection laboratory at HipKnee Arkansas Foundation and used by UAMS researchers — most from the Museum of Discovery’s Girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workshop were unfamiliar with. Special cameras at strategic spots throughout the room and the markers worn by the subjects resulted in a 3D model created by computer software that was shown right before them on television.
Erin Mannen, Ph.D., director of translational orthopaedic research and assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, is one of many UAMS researchers who use the technology every day to measure muscle activity and motion in babies, learn how joint replacements affect golf swings, or identify safe yoga practice in hip and knee replacement patients.
Alexis Thompson of Ruston, Louisiana, is a veteran participant of the Girls in STEM workshop, but was still surprised to learn of this technology. It was especially interesting to her because she wants to one day research animals and the evolution of their movements.
“It is really amazing that engineers can do this and find ways to fix what might be broken,” said Alexis.
Bliss Bradford of Marked Tree was speechless.
“It shows how far technology has come,” said Bliss. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is interesting that we’re able to do something like this.”
The reactions of Alexis and Bliss is exactly why Mannen wanted to take part in the Museum of Discovery workshop, which each summer brings middle- and high-school girls to Little Rock to learn about STEM opportunities and meet women in related careers.
“I grew up in a small town without much access to STEM,” said Mannen. “Whenever I see a workshop like this or an opportunity to teach kids, particularly girls, about careers in science and engineering, it is always something I’m happy and honored to take part in.”
Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs, but only 24 percent of STEM jobs. Mannen encountered similar disparities while studying mechanical engineering where she was one of only three females in her graduating class.
“There is a misconception that girls don’t belong in STEM fields, but by introducing them to science and technology that engages and excites them, girls are more likely to stay interested in STEM,” said Mannen. “We need women in STEM to move the fields forward, to ask new questions and to find creative solutions. I hope the girls had their eyes opened to many unique opportunities in STEM fields.”