From Kangaroo Rats to Robotics
Senior medical sciences major Kade Wagers has known since high school that he wanted to attend medical school and specialize in orthopedics. However, he never thought studying kangaroo rats would help get him there.
The Boise native chose the University of Idaho specifically for its undergraduate research opportunities. “When I arrived, I asked my advisor about conducting research. She gave me a list of labs and I saw that the McGowan Lab worked with movement and biomechanics. I applied and have been working with them, and the kangaroo rats, ever since.
“Kangaroo rats are a bipedal hopper,” said Wagers. “This is a unique form of locomotion and because of that, it actually has a lot of applications, including for human movement.”
According to Wagers, scientists know kangaroo rats use their tails for balance in steady states, but no one knows the extent or the mechanics of how the rats use their tails.
To help figure this out, Wagers puts small weights on different parts of the rat’s body-like their tails or toes-and then films them. This allows him to analyze how the tail changes according to the weight placement and how the rat readjusts to maintain its balance while hopping.
“What I love about this line of movement study is that it has applications in robotics, orthopedics, and building more efficient prosthetics", said Wagers.
Wagers, who is in the process of having his findings published, also presented them at the College of Science Student Research Expo on Oct. 31, 2019.
Christi Stone College of Science
Interesting Facts on Kangaroo Rats from Associate Professor Craig McGowan:
- There are 23 different species of k-rats. All are desert adapted, though they live in a wide range of habitat.
- Desert kangaroo rats (D. deserti) don't drink water, but rather rely on metabolized water from the breakdown of food.
- They have highly specialized kidneys that the enable them to produce extremely concentrated urine.
- They have extremely fast reflexes that enable them to escape the strikes of snakes and owls.
- Escape jumps can be very high, over 10x hip height.
- They have greatly enlarged auditory bullae (hollow bone structure in the skull around the ear) that enables them to detect very low frequency sounds.
- All species are nocturnal and live in burrows.