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Undergrad's study adds insight to her future career

Kristen B. Morales

October 19, 2015


Most students wait until they are in graduate school before beginning a research project. But not Zoe Yurchuck.

A senior majoring in exercise and sport science in the Department of Kinesiology, Yurchuk wanted a deeper understanding of the patients she hoped to one day work with as a physical therapist. After taking a class taught by professor Kevin McCully, Yurchuck became more interested in exercise science; McCully steered her and another undergraduate toward a research idea that needed some attention.

"This research was something that could inform clinical practice in the future, and that's something that drew me to this project in particular," says Yurchuck. "I have an interest in working with individuals with spinal cord injuries and low mobility."

The study, which Yurchuck conducted as part of UGA's Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, looked at the effect electronic muscle stimulation had on improving muscle tissue. Using sensors attached to the skin, Yurchuck and her research partner, Rebecca Baltenberger, tested how patients responded to the stimulation.

The result? Once they determined the best level of intensity—"once you get used to the feeling, they could get (the intensity) to go up a little bit more," she says—they found that the muscle activation was less intense in overweight subjects. In other words, when the sensor was able to get close to the muscle, without many barriers under the skin, the treatment was more successful.

"We wanted to see how they responded, and if they were able to get a metabolic response," she says. "For people who can't feel the stimulation, like spinal cord injuries, there is some feasibility that it could be a training tool."

The experience was unique for an undergraduate, but it was all part of the learning experience, Yurchuck says.

"Research is a whole new world," she adds. "Dr. McCully always likes to talk about active learning, and this project was definitely that. And it's neat to see and understand, as someone who wants to be a clinician, how important it is to have these studies, so we know how to treat the patient."

Related links: Department of Kinesiology