The Animal Locomotion Lab is examining the evolutionary development and mechanics of motion in animals and humans.
Established in the late 1990s by Daniel Schmitt, professor of evolutionary anthropology, and Pierre Lemelin, a research associate, the lab initially sought to investigate the evolutionary development and function of walking in the human phylogenetic order. Since then, however, the lab has expanded to include research in animal and human bone models, joint disease and functional anatomy. The lab currently conducts experiments with a variety of animals, including tigers, lions, chimpanzees, lemurs and mice. All of the animals studied by the lab come from facilities centered on animal-research and conservation.
"We're mainly primate people," Schmitt said. "We study mainly pattern and movement."
But the lab does not focus exclusively on animals, Schmitt said, it also does extensive research with humans. He cited a current study being done by the lab, which scrutinizes the basic motion of humans when they step off curbs and sidewalks.
Schmitt noted that these studies often test specific sub-groups of humans, such as athletes or people suffering from musculoskeletal disorders.
Michael Granatosky, a student in the Graduate School and researcher at the Animal Locomotion Lab, noted other human studies conducted there.
"We conduct experiments on the running biomechanics of humans and research how osteoarthritis and obesity affect locomotion," he said.
Laura Johnson, Graduate School '14 and former student researcher in the lab, noted that though she never had the chance to experiment with humans while at the lab, she had some of her most memorable experiences working with animals.
“For my Ph.D. I worked with 8 species of [primates] from the Duke Lemur Center," Johnson wrote in an email Monday. "My specific Ph.D. research probably could not have been completed anywhere else [because] it is very difficult to get [that many] primates.”
Johnson noted that her connection with Schmitt was instrumental in bringing her to the University's graduate program, and this connection flowed into the lab atmosphere, as well.
"I loved the intellectual conversations that would happen in the lab," Johnson said. "To have that many great brains working on a problem was a fun dynamic to be a part of."
Johnson said despite the lab's stimulating scholarly environment, the lab has its lighter moments, too.
"The frequency with which Dr. Schmitt would get distracted by almost anything always brought a laugh and lightened the spirit of the lab," she said.
Granatosky said while he conducted research at the lab he also got to work closely with the Duke Lemur Center.
"To just to go out [to the Duke Lemur Center] and see these animals move freely is a once in a lifetime experience that you can't get anywhere else," he said.
Schmitt himself said his work with animals has not been uneventful. He mentioned a particular moment when a tiger almost peed on him during an experiment.
At the moment, the lab is conducting multiple studies, Schmitt said. One animal study examines the development of foot patterns in chimpanzees, and another looks at how animals primarily situated in tree canopies move around and swing without falling and pitching out of trees.
Schmitt added that the lab is not exclusive to graduate students and offers many opportunities for undergraduates interested in getting involved.
“One of the wonderful things about this lab is that any undergraduate can do this work," Schmitt said. "It is high level mechanical things but the work itself is straight forward."
He noted that undergraduates can participate in their projects from beginning to end, enabling them to do their own work and add their findings to the lab's repertoire.