Zelik's goal is to improve health, mobility and independence for individuals with physical disabilities, and to enhance human capabilities beyond natural biological limits, through advances in movement science and assistive technology. His lab perform research on a range of topics, from investigating fundamental mechanisms underlying legged locomotion to translating biomechanical principles into improvements in technologies such as prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons, wearables and smart clothing. They strive to develop devices that better integrate with the human body and better augment human capabilities and performance. We also seek to develop new measurement tools and analysis methods to deepen our understanding of human movement biomechanics. The Zelik Lab is housed within Vanderbilt CREATE (Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology).
They perform experimental and computational research on human locomotion by combining techniques and knowledge from engineering, biomechanics, bio-signal analysis, neuromotor control and clinical practice. Their interdisciplinary research is performed directly alongside clinical doctors — many of whom have offices within short walking distance of our lab — and in collaboration with other engineers and scientists. To study human movement we use state-of-the-art measurement equipment, including an infrared motion capture system, force-instrumented treadmill, portable respirometry system, ultrasound imaging and an electromyographic (muscle activity) measurement system. Research projects in their lab range from designing, building and testing wearable assistive devices to developing new experimental approaches for assessing the biomechanics of human performance to conducting computational simulations to better elucidate fundamental principles underlying locomotion.
Areas of Expertise (7)
University of Michigan: Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering 2012
Washington University: M.S., Biomedical Engineering 2007
Washington University: B.S., Biomedical Engineering 2006
Selected Media Appearances (5)
An Innovative Robotic Exosuit Boosts both Walking and Running
Scientific American online
“This study builds upon the research team’s prior success in developing ankle-assist devices by showing benefits can also be achieved through hip assistance,” says Karl Zelik, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University and chief scientific officer at HeroWear, a company that is currently developing lift-assist exosuits. As an expert who did not participate in the recent study, he described its results as “promising.”
The future has arrived. Want proof? Check out these amazing robotic exoskeletons
Digital Trends online
“The device uses a novel under-the-foot clutch mechanism that we invented, and an extension spring that acts in parallel with the user’s calf muscles,” Professor Karl Zelik, who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “As a person walks, some of the force that typically goes through their muscles is redirected and goes through the assistive spring instead. This reduces the muscle force and effort needed to walk.”
It’s 2019 – where’s my supersuit?
The Conversation online
But what about the physical superpowers? I wanted those, too – like superhuman endurance or strength. Those may not be too far behind: I’m working on them in Vanderbilt’s Center for Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology. Humanity has begun to enter the age of wearable exoskeletons and exosuits that offer support and strength to people’s bodies.
Study Finds Wearable Devices Not Effective for Forecasting Stress Fractures
R&D Magazine online
"First and foremost, we want to track something on the loading of some bones, on the bone in your foot, on the bone in your shank and we want to look at how that might be leading to the accumulation of these microcracks in the bone," Zelik said. "If want to estimate the loading then we need to find a way to use wearable sensors and estimate the loading on these structures like bones and muscles inside the body, as opposed to estimating the loading between your foot and the ground."
Smart underwear designed to prevent back pain
Zelik described how the suit works, “Instead of all of the load going through your back muscles what you can do is you can run an elastic structure, basically a spring from your shoulders down along your backside over your butt and attach it to your thighs. And when you lean forward or when you lift something up some of the loading goes through the elastic band and it doesn’t go through your muscles. And that helps offload your low back.”
Selected Articles (3)
Zelik, K. E. and Honert, E. C.
"In human gait analysis studies, the entire foot is typically modeled as a single rigid-body segment; however, this neglects power generated/absorbed within the foot. Here we show how treating the entire foot as a rigid body can lead to misunderstandings related to (biological and prosthetic) foot function, and distort our understanding of ankle and muscle-tendon dynamics."
Lamers, E. P., Yang., A. J. and Zelik, K. E.
"The purpose of this study was: 1) to design and fabricate a biomechanically-assistive garment which was sufficiently lightweight and low-profile to be worn underneath, or as, clothing, and then 2) to perform human subject testing to assess the ability of the garment to offload the low back muscles during leaning and lifting."
Yandell, M. B., Quinlivan, B. T., Popov, D., Walsh, C. J. and Zelik, K. E.
"Wearable assistive devices have demonstrated the potential to improve mobility outcomes for individuals with disabilities, and to augment healthy human performance; however, these benefits depend on how effectively power is transmitted from the device to the human user."