Faculty Focus on Professor Robert Siston
Each month, we highlight our talented faculty who continue to attract the best and brightest engineering students and whose insights and research keep us at the leading edge of innovation and discovery. They are leaders in engineering practice, sought after by industry, government and the broader community.
What is the focus of your research and why is it significant?
I direct the Neuromuscular Biomechanics Laboratory, and we use principles of mechanical engineering like dynamics and design to develop a scientific basis for the treatment of human movement disorders. Some recent work in our lab has focused on how people use their muscles to perform key activities of daily living like walking, climbing stairs, and rising from a chair. If we can first understand how young healthy people accomplish those tasks, we can then see how aging, injuries or diseases like osteoarthritis affect that ability, and then, eventually, design new clinical or surgical interventions and assistive devices to ensure that everyone can have a high quality of life.
Musculoskeletal disorders are a leading cause of disability in the United States and the number one reason why people visit their physician. Annually, treatment of musculoskeletal disorders cost approximately one trillion dollars annually in the United States alone. These problems are only going to get worse as the Baby Boomers continue to grow older and retire in large numbers. Seeking novel ways to prevent and treat such disorders can improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and potentially represent a huge savings in medical care costs.
Why should a prospective student consider mechanical engineering?
Engineers are problem solvers. Mechanical engineers learn how to use some of the best aspects of physics to determine how the world around them works and to design new products and services. Mechanical engineering can be seen everyday in the world around you in things like iPhones, hybrid electric vehicles, airplanes, washing machines, bicycles, to orthopaedic implants. A degree in engineering prepares a student to work at a company or national research lab as an engineering, but it also prepares students for careers in law, medicine, and business, just to name a few. Mechanical engineering provides rigorous training for a wide variety of careers that can change the world.
What do you like most about your job?
I love working with students, and I would have to say that the best part of it centers around seeing them realize their potential. To me, it is extremely satisfying to see students grow and learn over the course of a semester (or more) and accomplish things that they did not think were possible when they started. These are typically the students who participate in class and attend nearly all of my office hours, or are meeting frequently with me about their research project. It is very gratifying to see all of their hard work pay off and know that you made at least a small positive difference in their lives. I wouldn’t trade relationships with these students for anything.
What advice would you give students considering an engineering career?
I would encourage students to get as many experiences outside of the classroom as possible, as they will greatly complement the coursework and overall enrich your experience. The classes will “make more sense” if students see how they are applied in “real life.” Ohio State has several opportunities to do this such as co-ops and internships, student project teams like EcoCar and Buckeye Current, and undergraduate research experiences. High school students can even get involved with activities like FIRST robotics. Also, I would encourage all students to develop their “hands on” skills with engineering. Engineers create new products and devices, and it is important for students to understand how numbers on their calculator translate to some sort of physical meaning.
What kind of music do you listen to and who are some of your favorite artists?
I listen to everything from classical, to 1940’s Big Band, to 90’s alternative, hip hop, and rap, to showtunes, to country, and Christian. Some of my favorite artists are U2, Garth Brooks, and Sidewalk Prophets.