Muscle research wins SFU student Vanier scholarship
The number 13 is considered unlucky in western folklore but not in Simon Fraser University doctoral student Oliver Blake’s books. A student of James Wakeling, an SFU associate professor of biomedical physiology and kinesiology, Blake has just become the 13th SFU recipient of the coveted Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.
But community leadership and groundbreaking research — not luck — are Blake’s tickets to a scholarship worth $50,000 annually for three years.
The Canadian government awards the scholarship annually to approximately 165 of the world’s leading doctoral students who are pursuing doctoral studies at Canadian universities.
The universities nominate incoming or current doctoral students for the scholarship. The candidates must “demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering and health.”
Blake is one of 156 global recipients of the 2012 Vanier scholarships. The husband, and father of a four-month-old baby, says the award couldn’t be timelier: “Progress is currently slow on my research as approximately 50 per cent of my time is spent working in other areas to make a basic living. The Vanier scholarship will enable me to focus the majority of my time on my research.”
Blake is interested in how muscles work together to produce movement. Under Wakeling’s guidance, Blake is developing a system for measuring and analyzing the coordination of muscle groups in real-time.
By comparing the conventional coordination pattern used by muscles to patterns that are known to result in altered performance, Blake hopes to control the way muscles work together.
Ultimately, he hopes to uncover ways in which muscles not typically called into action to perform a task can be marshaled as a group to take over the work of impaired muscles.
He is using real-time audio and visual cues to help his experiments’ participants change how their muscles work together to perform the act of cycling.
“We have recently demonstrated that the way the limbs move and the energy required for limb movement are limited by muscle coordination and not any individual muscle,” explains Blake. “Therefore, it is essential to examine muscles as a group as opposed to individually. This is important for our fundamental understanding of human movement as well as for movement rehabilitation as it will help with re-establishing proper muscle coordination.”
Conquering physical limitations is an issue close to Blake’s heart. The desire to help his mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, inspired him to help his family found the Race4MS project. It has raised more than $100,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.