ISB Travel Grant: Study in Cape Town

Posted on June 17, 2016

With support from the International Society of Biomechanics International Travel Grant, I spent 5 months at the Blast Impact and Survivability Research Unit (BISRU) at The University of Cape Town (UCT) in Cape Town, South Africa.  This opportunity provided me with both a global research experience and growth on a personal and scientific level.

My research at BISRU was experimentally focused; exactly what I had been hoping for as much of my research had been computationally based.  I designed an experiment for the penetration of skin in radial tension by means of knife wound.  From this quasi-static experiment, I obtained force-displacement data as well as used digital image correlation to obtain stress maps of the tested sample.  Through development of the project hypothesis, design of the experimental set-up and fixtures, collaboration with the Mechanical Workshop to build the fixtures, and execution of the tests, I gained experience in many aspects of the design process.  The data obtained and material properties learned from this experiment will be applied to the design of dynamic skin penetration testing and further the understanding of the biomechanics of knife wounds – the leading cause of homicide in many countries.

I am thankful for the support of my supervisors at BISRU, Professor Gerald Nurick and Dr. Reuben Govender as well as all of the help from the graduate students.  By attending weekly presentations by the graduate students, I also learned about the other projects that are currently being undertaken in the lab.  While there is a range of research happening, survivability remains the underlying goal of BISRU and continues to drive the lab with human protection in mind.

My experiences outside of the laboratory were as equally impactful during my trip.  I joined the UCT Gymnastics club and SHAWCO, the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation, where once a week I joined in traveling to disadvantaged communities to tutor middle school students in mathematics.  I found the best part of Cape Town to be its diversity.  I was able to get to know people from all around the world and with the mountains, ocean, and colorful city, I was always learning and exploring through new adventures outside of the research lab.  I believe one of the most important things I learned was how to work with and appreciate the unique abilities and traits of different people.  This experience opened the door for global collaboration and I encourage other students to take advantage of any opportunity to perform research abroad.

I would like to thank the International Society of Biomechanics for the opportunities they provide students through programs such as the International Travel Grant.  Without it this grant, I would not have had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has further strengthened my passion of biomechanics and helped me become both a better researcher and a better person.


Melissa Boswell, University of Akron.

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