Spotlight on SAC research Staff

Over the forthcoming weeks the SAC newsletter will be shining a light on our academic colleagues in non teaching roles. This week we learn more about two post-doctoral research staff members, Dr Diana Samuel and Dr Szu-Ching, who are working on the GRASP project with Dr Tracey Kivell.


Stills from synchronised high-speed video recordings, showing the hand of a bonobo during suspensory locomotion, courtesy of Diana Samuel.

Diana: I am researching the loading on bonobo hands during arboreal locomotion – specifically, measuring the pressures exerted by their hands when grasping arboreal substrates during locomotion.

This research is part of the GRASP project, the purpose of which is to understand how the human hand evolved its grasping abilities. My background is in biomechanics. My undergraduate degree was in Biology (where I first came across biomechanics), and my master’s degree was in Biomechanics; I obtained both of these at the University of Manchester. I then moved to the University of Glasgow for my PhD, where I researched the biomechanics and adhesive abilities of tree- and torrent frogs. It was during this time that I developed an interest in functional morphology, which is what led me to my current work.

Szu-Ching: I am a postdoctoral research associate working with Dr. Tracy Kivell on the GRASP project. The project aims to clarify the questions of human hand evolution. My role in the project is to validate musculoskeletal models by doing biomechanical tests on cadaveric hands from humans and bonobos.

My interests ispotlight-insetn the hand-related research started when I was an undergraduate studying Occupational Therapy at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan. I engaged in a summer research project measuring the pinch force during dynamic lifting tasks. Afterwards, I had an opportunity to work as an undergraduate assistant on a project investigating the thumb movement space. After receiving my BSc in Occupational Therapy, I joined the graduate program in Biomedical Engineering at the same university. My graduate study focused on the biomechanics of the trigger finger, a common disorder in orthopedic hand clinics. Patients suffering from trigger finger have difficulties during finger motion. In some cases, patients’ fingers are locked at bended positions during extension, and then the fingers may be quickly straightened if they try really hard to extend their fingers. Part of my study was to develop a musculoskeletal model to estimate the tendon force in trigger fingers. I also used cadaver hands to compare the effects of different surgical procedures for trigger fingers. I received my PhD degree in Biomedical Engineering in December 2013. 

I used to work in the orthopedic and rehabilitation fields before I came to the University of Kent. I worked as a research trainee at the Mayo Clinic, and as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States. I am very happy that I have a chance to apply my previous experience in biomechanics to the field of anthropology. It is an exciting opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary project as GRASP.





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