The Department of Physical Therapy (DPT) recently welcomed Dr. Niklas Ignasiak to their faculty. Dr. Ignasiak is originally from Germany and comes to Chapman following the completion of his PhD at ETH Zurich, one of the world’s most prestigious science and technology universities. He is one in a small group of graduates being honored in January with a medal for outstanding thesis. “It was already a great honor to receive my degree from this university, but to receive the medal feels still a bit unreal to me. I was not aware that my examiners had put me forward, so this came as a nice surprise.” His thesis focused on identifying the level of gait variability that is optimal for human locomotion. It also explores how the nervous system might control those optimal levels of variability in healthy subjects by investigating peripheral reflexes during balancing tasks.
Like many physical therapists (PTs), Dr. Ignasiak’ interest in biomechanics and human biology developed through playing and coaching competitive sports, specifically volleyball. “During my PT education, I could not stop annoying my professors because I was permanently inquiring about the reasons we do certain things as PTs. This was probably the foundation for my later research career.” A career that started with his first job at Charite University Hospital gait lab in Berlin.
It was here that Dr. Ignasiak met his close mentor, colleague and friend, Professor William R. Taylor. “He was an incredible mentor,” says Dr. Ignasiak. “He and his team of engineers took me by the hand and taught me the various aspects of biomechanics research including how to operate several different research devices, data processing, statistics, and of course how to write papers. I worked with Bill for over 8 years and it was him who brought me to Switzerland to do my PhD at ETH. I am incredibly grateful for his support.” Dr. Ignasiak strives to deliver this same type of support to his students at Chapman. “Here, we really want our students to be successful to the extent that I sometimes feel, that I am more nervous before finals than they are.”
Currently, Dr. Ignasiak is engaged in two active research projects. The first project is a collaboration with Dr. Vinnie Berardi, assistant professor of Psychology, and Dr. Cyril Rakovski, associate professor of mathematics, which aims to develop smart phone technology that can identify “good” and “bad” walking patterns in patients with Parkinson’s disease. This could be used to help patients maintain better walking in everyday situations. The second project is a validation study exploring various solutions to the problem of conducting gait research using a treadmill, which is significantly different from walking on the street. Future projects will focus on studying walking patterns using the grail virtual reality environment, while simultaneously observing brain electrical activity using a mobile EEG system.
With a busy teaching and research schedule, Dr. Ignasiak has little time for hobbies. When he does manage to get some time to relax, he enjoys sailing with his brother, cooking with his wife, or simply reading a good book. He also commits time to environmental and anti-nuclear activism in his native Germany.