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Innovative ideas for enhancing rehabilitation earn foundation’s support

Science Foundation Arizona established its Bisgrove Scholar program to attract and keep researchers whose work promises to produce advances in areas that will have far-ranging positive impacts.

One of two 2016 Bisgrove Scholar awards has gone to Wenlong Zhang, an assistant professor of engineering in the Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

Wenlong Zhang, assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Wenlong Zhang, assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Zhang’s research focuses on the design, modeling and control of cyber-physical systems that can be applied in healthcare, manufacturing and robotics.

The Bisgrove award will provide $200,000 to expand his efforts to develop mobile and intelligent gait-rehabilitation systems.

The systems will enable people with standing and walking difficulties to be fitted with wireless body sensor networks and wearable robotic rehabilitation technology to aid them in doing exercises to better understand and improve their gait (walking motion) — while at home working remotely with a physical therapist.

The data mining and advanced robotic control are what make the systems highly autonomous, Zhang says.

He wants the advanced “smart” connected systems to make such rehabilitation more convenient and less costly for patients — particularly Arizona’s aging and rural populations that could benefit significantly from therapeutic services delivered remotely.

“Most gait rehabilitation therapy is still done in clinics, which is inconvenient for many people with walking difficulties. Also, physical therapists need to perform the labor-intensive rehabilitation tasks in a one-to-one manner and they don’t have a lot of data to guide their decisions on therapy,” Zhang says.

“My motivation for developing these mobile and connected systems is to enable in-home rehabilitation to be accessible to people living in remote areas, and to give therapists a way to easily track a patients’ training regimen and be able to provide direction for the patients based on data gathered by body sensors,” he says.

Zhang joined the ASU faculty in the fall 2015 and “has made wonderful progress in this short time,” says Professor Ann McKenna, director of the Polytechnic School. “Winning the Bisgrove award is just one reflection on how his research is helping to significantly advance robotics research.”

McKenna points out that his expertise in gait analysis and rehabilitation, human-involved cyber-physical systems and networked and distributed systems complements the work of several faculty colleagues and the mission of a variety of ASU research initiatives.

“He is a great asset to our engineering program and we are delighted he was selected for this prestigious award,” she says.

With support from Arizona philanthropist Jerry Bisgrove, Science Foundation Arizona created the Bisgrove Scholars program to support exceptional and innovative new research talent in Arizona.

Those selected to receive the program’s support are experts with “the ability to transform their fields of research into direct value not only for Arizona, but for all of society,” said Bill Harris, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer.

Before coming to ASU, Zhang earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2012, a master’s degree in statistics in 2013, and a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering in 2015, all from the University of California, Berkeley.

He will conduct the research supported by the Bisgrove Scholar award under the mentorship of Professor Ann McKenna, director of the Polytechnic School, and Professor Marco Santello, director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, along with fellow Fulton Schools of Engineering faculty members Professor Thomas Sugar and Associate Professor Sangram Redkar.

Three Fulton Schools of Engineering faculty members were among last year’s Bisgrove Scholars. Read more.

Seven ASU faculty members are among the 21 scientists and engineers supported by the Bisgrove Scholar program since it began in 2011. Read more.

Science Foundation Arizona has also supported other ASU research and K-12 education outreach, as well as graduate research fellowships for students pursuing advanced college degrees.

About The Author

Joe Kullman

Before coming to ASU in 2006 as the first senior media relations officer for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Joe had worked as a reporter, writer and editor for newspapers and magazines dating back to the dawn of the age of the personal computer. He began his career while earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio. Media Contact: joe.kullman@asu.edu | (480) 965-8122 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

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