Each week in 2019, we're highlighting someone in the College of Public Health—students, alumni, researchers and beyond—for a feature we're calling Public Health in Focus. Click the photo for a portrait of Shivayogi Hiremath, assistant professor of physical therapy, or read on for the full interview.
What’s it like teaching across disciplines?
I think it’s more exciting, because neuromotor science is a very interdisciplinary program. We have engineers, clinicians, and people who have had a science background. It’s a great way to teach people coming from different areas, to get them all excited about human movement and how we can quantify human movement.
What is your area of research?
As a lab, we are very focused on identifying patterns of health and physical activity in the community. So we use variable sensors—we track people’s physical activity levels—but what I think is cool about it is that we work with some collaborators at Northeastern University and with hospitals here in Philadelphia, like the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and Moss Rehabilitation Hospital. There, we are able to provide technologies called JITAIs, or Just In Time Adaptive Intervention Systems, which detect physical activity or some activity that you are doing. If it’s something that you like, it gives you brownie points towards your health; they say “Hey, good job.” It’s a real-time system that works very well with your behavioral patterns of physical activity or activity levels in the community.
How did you first get interested in this area?
My undergraduate degree was in electrical and electronics engineering. And when I was working at a small company, I designed a VOCA—Voice Output Communication Aid—for a child with cerebral palsy. And I thought, “Wow, technology can empower people directly,” even though that was just one child. That led me to get my graduate degree in rehabilitation science and technology. That field is also sometimes called rehabilitation engineering, and we develop or evaluate technologies for people with disabilities who might have slightly different needs or biomechanical patterns. For people with disabilities, devices such as Fitbit may not be directly applicable if they are not trained for these modifications.
What is the “dream scenario” for your research?
My dream research scenario is to develop technologies that eventually go into the market and are easily accessible by people with disabilities. Hopefully these technologies can improve their quality of life and health outcomes: they can participate more in the community, participate in their friend groups, and get a good education and then get employment, just like everyone else.”
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to walk a lot, so that’s my weekend. If you are in my neighborhood, you’ll see me walking. Luckily it’s a walkable neighborhood.
I also practice Iyengar Yoga every week. It’s a form of yoga where you stay in a pose for longer. You are in a pose, and it looks still, but you are doing the posture and you are in the moment, able to just enjoy knowing yourself. That drives me.
Shivayogi Hiremath is an assistant professor of physical therapy and teaches in the Neuromotor Science programs, where he teaches courses in instrumentation and programming. Check out all of the Public Health in Focus portraits so far.