President’s Blog, June 2015

Posted on June 30, 2015
John Challis

The XXV Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics is just around the corner (20 days away as I write).  This congress marks a milestone for the ISB as this is our 25th congress, a Silver Anniversary.  Our congress is biennial which means we have been holding congresses since 1967, which is a bit confusing as the society was not formed until 1973.  The society arose from a series of biomechanics conferences held in Zurich (1967), Eindhoven (1969), and Rome (1971).  By the time this conference was held in State College in 1973 there was sufficient impetus to form a society, and the ISB was formed but we started counting congresses from that initial meeting in Zurich.

Delegates at the1973 Congress

As a society we have a number of membership categories: full member, student member, emeritus member, and honorary members.  Our student membership has grown over the last five years, from 180 in 2011, to 275 in 2015.  This encouraging growth suggests that the students of biomechanics appreciate what the ISB is trying to do for them, and also speaks to the vibrancy of biomechanics as an area of graduate study.  The task for the society is to retain as many of these students as full members as possible.  When the ISB was formed in 1973 those that joined the society were designated as charter members, so our full membership category has a subgroup.  We have 15 charter members who are still members of the ISB.  Of those 15, five are retired and another five have had their contributions recognized by being appointed as honorary members. This group of honorary members have made outstanding contributions to the ISB and to the field of biomechanics.  Many of our current set of honorary members are still actively working on behalf of the society in various roles.

At the upcoming congress we will be appointing our first set of fellows.  Julie Steele in this issue of ISB Now outlines the selection procedure for these fellows.  The purpose of the fellows is in part to recognize distinguished achievement in biomechanics, and to encourage their continued contributions to the various functions of the society.  The expectation is that applicants will only accept a Fellowship if they are willing to remain active within the ISB upon receipt of their Fellowship.  These fellows will provide a useful resource for the ISB as we work to fulfill our various remits.

Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)

Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)

Congress organizers will also try and highlight “heroes of biomechanics” at the upcoming meeting.  A hero can take many forms, we would not equate the acts of a war hero with those of an academic hero.  Indeed one person’s hero might be another person’s antihero.  Even in the field of biomechanics the identification of heroes is hard, and unanimous agreement might be difficult.  Some might consider Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904, pictured to the left) a good choice of a biomechanical hero, and his efforts to record animal and human movement are to be lauded but he also doctored some of his records and was tried for murder!  At the upcoming congress the identification of “heroes of biomechanics” may not correspond with your heroes in biomechanics, but it should make us all pause to think about those people who have impacted our careers, possibly without even knowing.  Felix Adler (1851-1933) was a professor of social and political ethics who wrote,

“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by.”

This definition seems to work well in biomechanics, our heroes are those who have illuminated biomechanics for us; their original work has provided insight.  Clearly for many of us our mentors and teachers have provided such insight but there are also those who have perhaps done so without necessarily realizing it.  When I was a graduate student I spent a long time working through various papers published by Herman Woltring (1943-1992).  These papers were dense with math and deep insights; he was an academic hero to me.  At the 1991 ISB Congress we were in the same dormitory at the University of Western Australia and I greatly enjoyed our conversations over breakfast.  I was also relieved that my hero could not do everything as the toaster seemed a complete mystery to him!

This is my last blog as the ISB President, and while the duties have kept me busy it has also been a rewarding experience.  I would like to express my gratitude to those who have assisted me over the last two years.  As I step down I will have new duties as the Past-President, and I look forward to continuing to participate in the activities of the ISB.




John Challis

Penn State University


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