Health and Exercise Science student named Vice President for Research Graduate Student Fellow

Man stands in front of winter foliage.

Scientists and researchers are taught to hone many different skills during graduate school. One of the most important is the ability to present your research clearly and concisely to various audiences. That’s what the 3 Minute Challenge put to the test.

Clayton Swanson, a graduate student in Colorado State University’s Department of Health and Exercise Science, was rewarded for his excellent presentation and compelling research, earning the distinction of Graduate Student Fellow from the Vice President for Research office. From the 39 students who competed in the  3 Minute Challenge, fifteen were selected for the 2019 – 2020 Vice President for Research Graduate Student Fellowship cohort.

Swanson is earning his Ph.D. in Human Bioenergetics while conducting research in the Sensorimotor Neuroimaging Lab led by faculty member Brett Fling. Originally from Oregon, Swanson worked at Oregon Health & Science University in the Department of Neurology before moving to Fort Collins.

Aging and mobility

For his 3 Minute Challenge research presentation, Swanson discussed “Turning on Your Brain: Age Matters.” His presentation explained how advancing age changes our ability to walk and balance, including our ability to turn. Additionally, if we fall while turning, the chance of a hip fracture and mortality increases dramatically.

Scientists know certain neurotransmitters in the brain are associated with coordination of our upper body to do things like type on a computer, button a shirt, or tie a shoe. However, they are unsure what the effects of these neurotransmitters are on how we coordinate our legs to do things like turning. Swanson and the Sensorimotor Neuroimaging Lab discovered that those neurotransmitters have a large impact on aspects of turning, such as the speed of our turns.

Those results allowed the research team to better understand how the brain controls complex movement in our lower body, and this discovery has the potential to spur development of rehabilitation or pharmaceutical interventions that will help improve mobility in older adults.

Mentoring future mentors

Swanson says that CSU and Fling have been essential to successfully completing this particular study and making sense of the results.

“Dr. Fling’s experience with various neuroimaging techniques, analysis, and communication style was pivotal in understanding and disseminating the results to develop my presentation,” said Swanson.

Outside of lab work and graduate school, Swanson has mentored undergraduates from HES and Engineering. Following the completion of his Ph.D., Swanson plans to complete a post-doc fellowship and join the faculty at a university.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.