COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES Department of Mathematics and Statistics


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The 2008 Ostrom Lecture in Mathematics


7:30pm; Center for Undergraduate Education, Room 419

John Milton

Abstract: Falling is the largest single cause of accidental death and the most common cause of trauma among the elderly. How can the risk of falling be minimized? A first step is to ask how the nervous system balances a stick at the fingertip. If the stick is too short it rapidly falls, but as the length of the stick increases it becomes easier and easier to keep it balanced. What do these observations tell us about how our brain is working? Recent studies using high motion capture systems suggest that most of the corrective movements for stick balancing occur on time scales smaller than the physiological time delay. Starting from such analyses, we may be able to devise strategies to decrease the risk of falling in the elderly by making appropriate changes in the design of walking shoes and surfaces.