Faculty You Should Know: Travis Ficklin

Travis Ficklin, a professor in physical education at the University of Northern Iowa, has always had two great loves: physics and baseball. In college, he realized that he didn't want to pursue a career in just one. And upon learning about the study of biomechanics, which can be used to analyze body movements in different sports, he discovered that he didn't have to give up one of his great loves.

Travis Ficklin
Ficklin and a student study the mechanics involved with swinging a baseball bat.

Biomechanics is the study of the physics of motion in biological systems. As a sport biomechanist, Ficklin often spends time researching a wide-range of movements to gain an understanding of performance in different athletic events.

"I am specifically interested in what are called 'flail-like' movements, such as throwing and striking tasks," explained Ficklin. "My dissertation, for example, is entirely about the mechanics of windmill softball pitching and the mechanics of how ball speed is generated."

To study the mechanics of these different gestures, Ficklin regularly spends time in the lab working with different pieces of equipment that can be used to measure and track different body movements. For example, one of the projects studies the mechanics involved with throwing a baseball or softball.

"We are using force plates to gather further information about the driving impulses made by the pitcher, and, just as importantly, the impulses made to stop the body's forward motion in order to transfer momentum from the body to the arm and then to the ball," noted Ficklin.

While working on his projects, Ficklin is often surrounded by both graduate and undergraduate students who are eager to engage in research. One of these students is Kara Beatty, a graduate student in physical education studying kinesiology.

"Working with Dr. Ficklin gives students an opportunity to see a professor who is truly passionate about biomechanics, and he wants his students to fully digest the material," said Beatty. "His interest in softball pitching biomechanics has opened the door for me to pursue my passion and conduct what could potentially be ground-breaking research in an area where a lot of information is needed. I am so excited to start collecting and interpreting data for the study we are currently working on."

Between teaching and working on different projects, Ficklin is motivated by his goal to bring new knowledge to his students and area of study. It's been said that the best teachers are the ones who have an actual passion for the things they teach, and this professor undoubtedly shares that enthusiasm with his students every chance he gets.