Engineering Major Uses Simulation Software to Relieve Joint Stress

Jasper Summer Research Scholar Michael Michalczyk ’14 discovers a systematic approach to inquiry.

Michael Michalczyk ’14, a mechanical engineering major, explored Mechanical Design, Simulation and Analysis of an Elbow Assistive Device with Zahra Shahbazi, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Together, they set out to design and simulate a brace that allows for a range of free movement while providing supplemental motorized movement to relieve joint stress.

Being able to work with an established professor was a chance that I did not want to miss.

For Michalczyk, who ultimately hopes to become a fabrication engineer for semiconductors and small-scale items, summer research was a chance to go beyond the classroom modules and challenge his skills in a more open-ended project. It was also an opportunity to collaborate.

“Being able to work with an established professor was a chance that I did not want to miss,” he says. “Together, we figured out what would make our project unique compared to other studies out there. There was a lot of back and forth — shared input and responsibility. It was very enjoyable.”

Programming Joint Recovery

Most of Michalczyk’s work was done using Multibody Dynamics (MBD) software, MCS Adams, to simulate a physical brace and its impact on a healing elbow joint. By creating the elbow and brace and manipulating the variables, he discovered which torques were appropriate for optimal use. Navigating this system didn’t prove too cumbersome, thanks to the expert guidance of Shahbazi. Rather, Michalczyk explains, the biggest problem was maintaining realistic goals.

“The issue presents itself when I’m in the middle of modeling and I suddenly think of something and have an ‘Oh! What if I add this?’ moment,” Michalczyk says. “It’s not bad to have these ideas, but they tend to sidetrack me and make me sweat the small details before I even have a general design to build off of.”

To offset this, Michalczyk learned to set small-scale, realistic goals before indulging in tangential ideas. He admits, at times, it didn’t feel as though he was making much progress. But by staying focused and putting in a little bit more work each day, he was able to achieve more than he had ever imagined.

“I definitely feel that I have become a bit more aware of what is required to get this kind of research done. For future projects, I know that the best approach is a systematic one, with well-defined goals. It may sound boring, but I have found it to be the most effective method.”

Michalczyk will submit his research to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Mechanisms and Robotics Conference as well as the International Design Engineering Conference, in the hopes of presenting his findings to a larger, more specialized audience.