The goal of this interdisciplinary, project-based course is to provide a better understanding of musculoskeletal function and pathology for students interested in human movement. Projects allow the student to explore facets of how we move by combining clinical, engineering, and artistic perspectives.

Learning Objectives

1. Achieve a basic understanding of upper and lower limb musculoskeletal anatomy, physiology, and function
2. Achieve a basic understanding how injury and disease alter musculoskeletal function
3. Integrate concepts relating to evolution, artistic representation, and scientific study of human movement

Merce Dancer, Jonah with student in the Motion Lab

Course Description

This course provides an interdisciplinary approach to human movement, with a focus on musculoskeletal function and pathology. The course will cover topics ranging from musculoskeletal anatomy; to pathophysiology of orthopaedic and neuromuscular conditions; to the evolutionary perspective of human form and function; as well as representation of human movement in art. The emergence of upright walking, for example, freed movement of the upper limb to manipulate tools and weapons which stimulated refinement of the human hand and brain enlargement. Biomechanical understanding of locomotion and upper limb movement has historically influenced the advancement of surgical reconstruction for diseased and traumatic conditions. The representation of movement in the visual and performing arts—in great masterpieces and through modern-day technologies such as motion capture, electromyography, and computer animation—permit better understanding of the fluidity and aesthetics of the Anatomy of Movement. The student-based projects explore the breadth of human motion, with the goal of contributing and producing musculoskeletal educational media.

Capturing the essence of human movement is critical to many disciplines in very different ways and this integrated course intends to bring these different audiences together. Interdisciplinary courses previously taught at Stanford have had a specific target audience: Anatomy for Engineering Students is a dissection-based course taught by medical faculty which targets mechanical engineers. Mechanical Engineering offers courses related to skeletal biology and medical device design, geared primarily for medical students and undergraduate and graduate engineering students. The relative scientific or technical basis of these course topics precludes the participation of students from other disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. Anthropologists, artists, computer scientists, physicians, and engineers all devote much energy to the study of human form and function, and this course is an effort to integrate the vantage of the many disciplines. Thus, the basis of musculoskeletal movement will be examined from the perspectives of medicine, mechanical engineering, computer science, anthropology, and the performing and visual arts. Lectures are one facet of the course, and student-generated projects another. The course can be taken for 2 units (lectures only) or for 4 units (lectures and participation in student-generated projects).

The first three weeks of lecture will provide an overview of the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular anatomy and physiology of human upper and lower limb mechanics. This will serve as a framework for the remaining lectures, and a basis for team project development. Core and guest faculty will present the normal function as well as the functional deficit from disease or injury, emphasizing a system-based approach. For instance, the anatomy of the upper limb will be combined with the effect of a nerve injury. Engineering faculty will introduce engineering dilemmas that assist or emulate human movement, such as the design of an artificial joint or the simulation of tendon transfers for cerebral palsy. Complementing the anatomical introductory lectures will be lectures from the social sciences and humanities. The expression of human movement in artistic masterpieces and photography—gesture of hands in da Vinci’s sketches or locomotion in the Eadweard Muybridge Collection, for example—will be presented from the artist’s perspective. The evolution of the hand as it became an instrument of purpose will be presented from the eyes of a physical anthropologist. Animators, combining the talents of the computer scientist, the artist, and the magician adept at sleight of hand, will reveal the challenges and tricks of creating moving and expressive characters.

The second facet involves the student projects. The project team will comprise four students and a faculty advisor who will be assigned based on their background (medicine, computer science, engineering, art, etc) with the goal of combining complementary talents. The topics will focus on physical or simulated representations of movement, or hypothesis-driven investigation of essential elements of human movement.