A close-up look at medical research in Vail | VailDaily.com

A close-up look at medical research in Vail

NWS Student Hospital Tour 2 DT 5-9-11

VAIL, Colorado – Like many high school students, Jamie Barnett has often wondered if the scientific method is good for anything besides homework and test questions. Monday, she got an up-close look at the scientific method in action.

Barnett, a 15-year-old Battle Mountain High School student, was part of a group of local middle and high-school students who got an up-close look at some of the research going on at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute at Vail Valley Medical Center. The students got a good look at some of the work local cardiologist Larry Gaul is doing, too.

But in the far corners of the hospital building, the people at Steadman Philippon gave these students – all part of the Eagle County School District’s “Eagle Program” for gifted and talented kids – a look at what leading-edge researchers do. And it all starts with the scientific method.

Robotics engineer Mary Goldsmith put the students through a quick exercise about how the institute’s robots – one of which worked in the auto industry in a former life – can help test a hypothosis.

Goldsmith laid out a fairly simple exercise – how a research intern might determine the effectiveness of ligaments of various sizes in knee surgery – then asked the students how they might arrange their work in terms of sample size, number of categories and so on.

Coen Wijdicks, the institute’s director of biomechanics, then showed the students a model of a knee and explained how the model, along with the institute’s robots, can help researchers answer questions about what surgical methods might produce the best results for patients.

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After talking with Goldsmith in the robotics lab, the students met Erik Giphart, who talked about how the institute uses imaging that also helps create videogames to examine athletes’ motion and how it might lead to injury.

“This is incredibly useful,” teacher Deb Harrison said. “These kids are getting exposure to cutting-edge research in their own back yard.”

The kids on this trip had all listed an interest in robotics, engineering or medicine on the individual learning plans all Eagle Program students fill out.

For Barnett, the morning’s demonstrations helped reinforce her idea of becoming a physical therapist.

“It was really cool,” she said. “I really liked the X-ray motion capture.”

Fellow Battle Mountain student Trixler Hirn was also impressed.

“I know what I’d be getting into,” he said.

Barnett said going through the morning exercise with Goldsmith gave her a look at what the proofs, math and other work in school might lead to.

“You go through school and think, ‘How are we going to use this?'” she said. “It really will come in handy.”

Jaime Trudeau is still in seventh grade at Gypsum Creek Middle School, so she hasn’t had the kind of work in math and science the high schoolers have. At least not yet. But she saw some of the work she’ll need to do if she wants to achieve her goal of working in sports medicine in Vail.

“I need to work more on the scientific method,” Trudeau said.