Tag: Research

Carolyn Duncan: Free Falling

Original story published on College of Engineering Blog, 11/10/2022

Cat suspended in air
Just what is Reactive Balance Ability? And why does it matter? Join us during Husky Bites, to find out!
Carolyn Duncan, Michigan Tech Assistant Professor

Carolyn Duncan shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, 11/14 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/14 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Carolyn Duncan, assistant professor, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology and Affiliated Assistant Professor, Cognitive and Learning Sciences at Michigan Tech.

Joining in will be Sarah Aslani, Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) PhD student and a member of  Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab at Michigan Tech, who will share just how balance is studied in the lab.

Falls are a major cause of serious injury and death in our society. So how can we prevent them? 

Sarah Aslani, ACSHF PhD student, Michigan Tech

“We need greater understanding of exactly what affects our ability to regain our balance when we lose it,” Duncan explains. “Not all risk factors affect balance in the same way. There are many unanswered questions, and that’s where our research comes in,” she says.

How do we anticipate falling? And what happens if we are distracted?

“There’s a lot we still don’t understand in respect to balance,” she says. Some major culprits, though: clutter and poor lighting. 

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan will explore what is currently known on how we regain our balance, share some things we can do to improve our balance and prevent falls, and discuss her ongoing research on balance control and fall prevention.

We can learn a lot from penguins, says Prof. Carolyn Duncan.

Duncan earned her BSc in Kinesiology and MSc in Occupational Biomechanics, both at the University of New Brunswick, and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on biomechanics at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She was a postdoctoral fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, then taught engineering ergonomics courses at Virginia Tech before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech in 2018.

After obtaining her doctorate in mechanical engineering, Prof. Duncan spent time working as an ergonomist and fall prevention specialist before she became a researcher. Her work has spanned from fall prevention in offshore industries to developing fall prevention safety programs for workplaces. These experiences give her valuable real-world insights in the fall-related challenges people face in everyday life.

Balance control research in Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab at Michigan Tech

At Michigan Tech, Duncan investigates factors that influence successful balance recovery—from lighting, load-carrying, and aging, to cognitive, neurological, and physical disorders and musculoskeletal injury. She also works with the design of built environments for older adults and special populations. 

“My research primarily focuses on the factors that influence successful balance recovery to prevent falls and improve mobility,” she explains.

Her work studying balance recovery in moving environments—such as the wave motion encountered in maritime settings—involves asking questions, such as “would dancers have better balance on a boat?” 

(Prof. Duncan found that while dancers demonstrated significantly fewer stumbling events when on a simulated boat than novices during the first trial, dancers did not perform as well as individuals with offshore experience.)

Clutter + Poor Lighting = Falls, says Prof. Carolyn Duncan. (Okay, we’ve been warned.)

Arriving recently from the warmer climate of Tehran to earn her PhD in Cognitive Learning Sciences in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Aslani has not yet experienced a Houghton winter, or ever slipped on the ice and snow. Thankfully, she is co-advised by Prof. Duncan and Kevin Trewartha, an assistant professor with joint appointment in CLA and KIP. They’re already preparing Aslani for what to expect when the snowflakes start to fly and temperatures dip.

Are wide stairs safer or more dangerous? And what does the “run length” have to do with it? We’ll find out during Husky Bites!

“Sarah has a background in biomedical engineering, and she just started this semester,” says Duncan. “She will be doing her PhD research on factors that influence our ability to recover our balance. I look forward to furthering this area of research with her in the upcoming years. And we look forward to teaching her how to snowboard and ski as part of our Lab bonding time.”

“I was looking for a research project that would cover both of my interests—biology and neuroscience—when I saw Dr. Duncan’s profile on the Michigan Tech website,” adds Aslani. “So I sent her an email. Then, in our first meeting, it really felt right. I knew this would be a place where I’d fit in.”

In the lab, Duncan and her team perform balance control research. Their overall goal: to help improve the lives of individuals in our community.

“Type 2 Diabetes is a big challenge facing many older adults, with devastating effects on balance. However, surprisingly, very little is known about how exercises like Tai Chi may decrease fall risk. My team is excited to start examining how effective lost-cost group exercise programs like Tai Chi, for improving balance and decreasing risk of falls. We’ll be working in collaboration with Dr. Kevin Trewartha and physical therapists Dr. Cameron Williams and Dr. Lydia Lytle,” Duncan says.

“Dim lighting is often associated with falls in the home,” she adds. “We’re currently looking into how lighting specifically affects balance recovery. We hope this knowledge will be used to develop guidelines on optimal lighting in homes and built environments in our community  to decrease risk of falls.’

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan promises to offer some takeaways, too. She’ll provide exact details on the best kinds of shoes, railings and stairs to prevent falls. 

“Mountain biking and alpine skiing are my passions, so the Upper Peninsula is a great place to live all year around,” says Dr. Duncan.

Dr. Duncan, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I first got into Engineering when I decided that pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering would best suit my long-term goals of being a researcher in biomechanics. My previous undergraduate and Masters degrees in Kinesiology and Science with focuses in biomechanics and ergonomics had sparked a desire to learn more advanced biomechanical modeling techniques. A PhD in Mechanical Engineering allowed me to learn these advanced biomechanical modeling techniques while also gaining the foundational knowledge in mechanical and human factors engineering to pursue this career.

Hometown, family?
I’m originally from Rothesay, New Brunswick, Canada–about 45 minutes east of Maine. Interestingly, I come from a healthcare and teaching family. My parents were both public school teachers, and my grandparents were all healthcare professionals or engineers. I have one younger brother who is currently an electrician in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

There’s something so adorable about Brady!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a member of the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol and Copper Harbor Bike Patrol. I’ve recently taken up Nordic skiing and disc golf. When I’m not outside I love to cook and am an avid indoor gardener. I have a two-year old ginger tabby cat named “Brady the Tomcat,” in honor of Tom Brady (I’m a lifelong New England Patriots fan). I found Brady at Copper Country Humane Society right here in Houghton. 

Sarah, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

“I always enjoy chatting with my friends,” says Aslani. “Sometimes when I want to clear my head and not think of anything, I hang out with a friend.”

Growing up, I was always trying to figure out my real passion–some area in which I am really talented, so that I can direct all my attention and power toward it.

I tried out many things, including painting and playing piano. But, they were never enough for me. After getting admitted to the Iranian Biology Olympiad (IrBO) at age fourteen, and then, a year later, to the Iranian’s national Mathematics Olympiad, I started to realize that I may be good at both those fields (biology and math). That is why a couple of years later, I chose to pursue a biomedical engineering degree.

Hometown, family?
Until recently, I lived in Tehran, Iran. It is the capital of Iran. Very crowded, but it is very beautiful, with lots of beautiful countryside spots to go on picnics, like Chitgar Lake. Plus, there are two, three great places to go hiking.

We are a small family. I have a younger brother who also chose the engineering field. My dad is an agricultural engineer. My mum is a biotechnology researcher. 

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?
The first thing is that I love hiking; when I was in Iran I used to go hiking every two weeks.

Hiking is one of Aslani’s passions. She’s excited to get out and start exploring the UP!

Another thing I am crazy about is learning new languages. I learn new languages by watching movies and listening to music. Recently I started learning Spanish. I love Spanish music. I memorized the lyrics and tried them out with karaoke!

And finally, I always enjoy chatting with my friends. Sometimes when I want to clear my head and not think of anything, I hang out with a friend. 


Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in Psychology and Human Factors, along with a Minor in Psychology. We also offer an Accelerated Masters degree in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF), which typically requires only one additional year of course work. Our graduate program includes masters and doctoral degrees in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF).

Questions? Contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And follow us @clsmtu on Instagram and Facebook for the latest happenings.

ACSHF Forum: Grad Student Presentations

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host ACSHF students Lisa Casper and Betsy Lehman at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum Monday (October 17) from 2:00pm to 3:00pm in Meese 109 and via Zoom.

Lisa Casper will present her research titled “Does Design Thinking Support Innovation: Empirical Evaluation

Abstract: Design thinking (DT) is a tool to support team innovation however, few empirical studies have examined it. In this study, we experimentally compared the effect of two approaches for DT ideate brainstorming on the number of ideas generated and the perceived innovativeness of those ideas.  As part of a semester-long DT project, 145 participants comprising 48 teams were challenged to develop an innovative solution for one of 17 United Nations sustainability goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals).  Half of the teams engaged in a standard DT brainstorming ideation process, while the other half participated in an experimental brainstorming condition. Participants generated ideas and provided subjective ratings of the process and their team’s solution. Ideas were content-coded on several dimensions by two independent raters.  We found that teams in the DT experimental brainstorming techniques condition generated almost 58% more ideas than those in the DT baseline condition in the same amount of time, but their ideas were not rated as more innovative. What these data suggest for innovation and conducting research on innovation will be discussed.

Betsy Lehman will present her research titled Counterfactual Thinking as a Strategy for Questioning a Frame: Experimental Results

Abstract: Understanding how people make sense of situations and question the theories they hold may be critical in many circumstances, from communicating about climate change to improving DEI at work. Questioning a perspective is assumed to be a precursor to changing it (Klein et al., 2007), yet the research on the questioning process is limited. In a previous study, we found that factors involved in counterfactual thinking (Roese & Olson, 1995), mutability of the situation and ease of generating counterfactuals, appeared highly relevant in the sensemaking process. In the present experiment, we tested this effect by manipulating ease of generation and a mutability focus strategy. This research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of perspective shifting to support applications such as programs to reduce implicit bias.

Erich Petushek ranks in top 100 most impactful articles on the ACL

Photo of Erich Petushek, CLS assistant professor

Erich Petushek (CLS) and co-authors received high rankings in The top 100 most impactful articles on the anterior cruciate ligament: an altmetric analysis of online media, recently released by SAGE Open Medicine.

Petushek’s article “Evidence-Based Best-Practice Guidelines for Preventing Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Young Female Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and has been ranked #16 as measured by the Altmetric Attention Score (AAS). Altmetric tracks the type and volume of online engagement the research has received since published.

The purpose of the research was to evaluate the common and effective components included in Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) neuromuscular training (NMT) programs and develop an efficient, user-friendly tool to assess the quality of the injury prevention programs. This was accomplished by using meta-analytic techniques to develop an easy to use checklist—a human factors tool—to evaluate the effectiveness of ACL injury prevention programming. The article’s AAS was 380 at the time the ranking was conducted in January 2022.

Clinicians, coaches, athletes, parents, and practitioners can use the developed checklist tool to gain insight into the quality of their current injury prevention programs and optimize their programming for future ACL NMT to reduce injury risk.


Erich is an assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences and a member of the Health Research Institute at Michigan Tech.

Psychology Research Methods 2020 Poster Conference Zooms Out!

Congratulations to Michigan Tech’s psychology students who presented their original research posters today to CLS faculty and graduate students…over Zoom! (That’s a first!)

The research, which students worked on all semester, covered a range of topics from personality to human factors, decision making to well-being.
Great job Huskies!

“The Effect of Mindfulness within Pre-Game Rituals on Self-Reported Confidence and the Acute Effects of Mindfulness on Present State of Well-Being” by Emilie Jacques and Tyrell Buckley.

“The Effects of Priming with Informative Videos on Likelihood to Report Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder by Ashley Van Handel, Erin Casey, and Emily Wisz.

“The Effects of Gamer Status and Gender on Impulsivity in Decisions and Thoughts” by Mariah Clement.

“The Effect of Word List Length on False Memory Generation Using the Deese-Roediger-McDermott Paradigm” by Alex Pippenger

“Impact of Self-Esteem on Levels of Regret in Action-Inaction Decision Scenarios” by Brooke C. Poyhonen.