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Oklahoma State University

Falling for research: OSU freshman honored for work on projects

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Freshman Research Scholar Taryn Blackstock

There’s more to a fall than a simple loss of motor skills. So perhaps there should be more to trying to predict the risk of a fall than merely measuring motor skills. The idea intrigued Taryn Blackstock, a freshman majoring in applied exercise science.

She had been selected as a Freshman Research Scholar, expanding her education beyond the classroom by engaging in research projects. Blackstock worked with College of Education, Health and Aviation faculty member Jason DeFreitas and graduate students in the Applied Neuromuscular Physiology Lab.

“He had me talk to his graduate assistants about their studies and decide which one was the most interesting to me and go from there,” Blackstock said. “The idea itself wasn’t quite my idea, but I helped record the data, transfer data and analyze it.”

Her efforts were recognized with the OSU Library Undergraduate Research Award and the Wentz Research Grant to support future research.

The library honor included $1,500 to fund her research project,” The Reactive Leg Drop: A Simple and Novel Sensory-Motor Assessment to Predict Fall Risk in Older Individuals.”

She was interested in combining sensory and motor assessments rather than just focusing on the motor functions of older adults to predict falls. Her research showed that many of the past tests that were used to look at older adults’’ functional ability were only focused on motor functions. After finding this, she researched how she could combine sensory and motor ability into one test that could more accurately predict fall risk in older adults.

“We had sensors to record when the muscles were activated (sensory), and we had a video to record when there was actual reaction from their leg to kick back up (motor) to determine when the muscles reacted in relation to when the participant produced their motor reaction.” Blackstock said.

“My experience as a Freshman Research Scholar really set the tone for my path in college,” she said. “My mentor and the graduate students I worked with helped me realize my potential and show me how important research is.”

Jason DeFreitas, assistant professor in exercise physiology, serves as Blackstock’s mentor and says that working with her has exceeded his expectations.

“Taryn is passionate about the field, works hard and ultimately has the potential to rival some of my doctoral students in quality and productivity.” DeFreitas said. “She is a promising young scientist.”

Blackstock also received the Wentz Grant, provided by OSU and the Lew Wentz Foundation, which supports undergraduate students conducting independent research in their fields of study. Her project was titled, “Is fatigue in your head? The use of deception to study the psychology of strength and anaerobic fatigue.”

Blackstock’s research project was reviewed by a faculty committee and evaluated in a blind review process based on criteria including originality, creativity and methodology.

The OSU student from Prosper, Texas, was one of 40 students to receive the grant and $4,500 to fund the research.

“It has truly felt surreal to receive all of these research awards, and I feel so honored,” Blackstock said. “Getting these awards has really  helped me to become more confident in myself and my abilities.”

Blackstock hopes to get her doctorate eventually.

“I hope to one day be able to see patience and practice physical therapy while being able to still research and better my field of study.”

Media Contact: Rachel Potts | 405-744-8320 |

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