Tag Archives: running

Turkeys and Treadmills: Identifying Gait Transitions in Grounded Running

The basics of locomotion must be understood to fully comprehend not only the actual movement that takes place, but the mechanical aspects behind those exact same movements to gain more knowledge as to why an animal uses a certain method of locomotion.  Animals move with different gaits, whether it’s flying, swimming, running, and probably the most commonly used method of locomotion in humans – walking.  For this reason, my project deals with observing turkeys while they run on a treadmill to characterize the transition that takes place from a walk to a run by measuring stride length and stride frequency. A stride is the action that occurs when a single foot moves from start to finish and usually takes place in two steps for bipedal or two legged animals. Stride frequency is the number of steps in a second by a single foot, and stride length is the maximum distance that occurs in a single stride. While running, humans experience an aerial phase, which is when both feet are off the ground at the same time. Turkeys are unique in this aspect in that they instead partake in grounded running, or running without an aerial phase.  Turkeys may not seem like the most ideal animal model, but have been proven to be useful for studies that are interested in running mechanics and energetics to define principles that apply to plenty of other animals.

Realities of Research

Whenever an experiment is performed, every single aspect is not going to proceed the way it’s supposed to – no matter how much meticulous planning is involved. There were days when the turkeys were completely cooperative, and other days where obtaining footage wasn’t at all possible. Getting turkeys acquainted with using a treadmill for the first time is not their favorite activity, to say the least, but they have grown accustomed to it to some extent. I’m still in the process of obtaining data, but I hope to gain a clear understanding of the mechanism turkeys rely on when they shift gears from a walk to a run. What ultimately has surprised me so far is the amount of software and equipment available which makes, not only this project possible, but also other experiments that are being conducted by other lab members, and provides valuable information to understand the mechanics of turkey muscle. Despite running into usual situations when conducting an experiment, what I didn’t anticipate of this project was eventually learning how difficult it would be to handle turkeys to begin with.

Day-to-Day Life of a Scientist

The day to day life of a scientist definitely has its benefits and setbacks when going through an experiment and actually being a part of a lab. Being a part of a lab team is intriguing in that over time you gain a better understanding and appreciation for what these people have been and currently are working on, and provides for a great learning opportunity whichever way you look. The down side of life in the lab is working on a project and motivating yourself to analyze and interpret your data as to what, and more importantly to formulate an explanation for the phenomena you have observed. Of course, all is not lost since you are given the chance to discuss what you’ve found with your lab members, but ultimately it comes down to what you think is going on. Although this may be true, pursuing research is not just a one-time occurrence but rather a giant learning process. Over time, you learn or figure out how something works, but that same answer leads to even more questions that you didn’t think of before. You may not always find the answer to begin with, and that in itself may feel defeating. Every obstacle is and should be seen as a learning opportunity, and despite all the unanswered “why” questions left in the world, research is there to help us create a roadmap to finding answers to these questions, no matter how small an answer may seem.

Karina Vega is a rising Senior majoring in Biology at California State University, San Bernardino. She was one of the undergraduates selected for the 2017 Integrative Organismal Systems Physiology (IOSP) fellowship, conducting research in the lab of Dr. Thomas Roberts at Brown University in Providence, RI. Karina’s fellowship was funded by the APS as well as the National Science Foundation Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) (Grant #IOS-1238831). After graduation, Karina plans on obtaining her Ph.D. in comparative physiology in hopes of pursuing a career in academia.