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Karl  Zelik - Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN, US

Karl Zelik Karl  Zelik

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering | Vanderbilt University


Expert on exoskeletons, human movement, biomechanics and prosthetic limbs






Lab Focus: Vanderbilt University - Karl Zelik, Matthew Yandell, Eric Honert Smart Underwear Prevents Back Stress with just a Double Tap Stress fractures and running wearables: The mistake that could mean injuries First step towards a better prosthetic leg? Trip people over and over Ask an Expert: How can wearable technology help frontline workers?



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)

Assistive Devices

Assistive Technology

Mechanical Engineering



Human Movement

Prosthetic Limbs

Education (3)

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 (7)

Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther gives a boost to diversity in STEM – a Black engineer’s take on personal and professional inspiration

The Conversation  online


Chadwick Boseman played a superhero on the big screen, but he had a real-life superpower – the ability to inspire the next generation of underrepresented scientists, engineers and innovators. He was one of many people lost too soon in 2020, but his legacy will live on.

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This wearable could help you avoid shin splints forever

Inverse  online


New research, led by Vanderbilt assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering and physical medicine & rehabilitation Karl Zelik, proposes taking an innovative and practical approach to measuring this internal stress that could help runners better monitor and even prevent shin splints. The findings were recently published in the journal Human Movement Science.

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Startup looks to help millions of Americans suffering from back pain

Scripps  tv


“With a simple press of the button, you’re able to engage the assistance,” said Karl Zelik, Ph.D., an engineering professor at Vanderbilt University who is now the chief scientific officer of HeroWear, a new company with a mission of creating exoskeleton technology for everyone.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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."

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Selected Articles (3)

Ankle and foot power in gait analysis: Implications for science, technology and clinical assessment

J Biomech

Zelik, K. E. and Honert, E. C.

2018 "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."

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Feasibility of a biomechanically-assistive garment to reduce low back loading during leaning and lifting

IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering

Lamers, E. P., Yang., A. J. and Zelik, K. E.

2018 "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."

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Physical interface dynamics alter how robotic exosuits augment human movement: implications for optimizing wearable assistive devices.

J NeuroEngineering & Rehabilitation

Yandell, M. B., Quinlivan, B. T., Popov, D., Walsh, C. J. and Zelik, K. E.

2017 "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."

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