Georgia Tech Partners on $15M NSF Grant to Explore Muscle Dynamics

Simon Sponberg

This press release is shared jointly with the UC Irvine newsroom.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $15 million to an interdisciplinary team spanning 21 institutions across the country.

The six-year funding will support the Integrative Movement Sciences Institute (IMSI), an innovative group conducting groundbreaking research in the mechanics of muscle control during agile movements in changing environments.

NSF IMSI includes several key Georgia Tech researchers:

  • Co-PI Simon Sponberg, Dunn Family Associate Professor in the School of Physics and School of Biological Sciences
  • Lena Ting, professor and McCamish Foundation Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Engineering and co-director of the Neural Engineering Center
  • Greg Sawicki, associate professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first US-based integrative center on the fundamental biology of muscle and movement that aims to bridge from the molecule to the whole animal to understand dynamic locomotion,” co-PI Sponberg says.

The research team also includes PI Monica Daley (UC Irvine), and additional Co-PIs Kiisa Nishikawa (Northern Arizona University), Jill McNitt-Gray (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences), and Anne Silverman (Colorado School of Mines).

Leveraging expertise

“The Georgia Tech contingent will leverage the Institute's expertise in the multiscale biophysics of muscle, neuromechanics, integrative physiology and bio-robotic movement,” Sponberg says, “including the Institute’s expertise in fundamental muscle biology and movement technologies.”

The group will also collaborate with Tom Irving and Weikang Ma at the Argonne National Lab to leverage multiscale imaging, which will help connect the team’s understanding of the function of muscle at the nanoscale to the properties of that tissue during motion.

A central theme of the new Integrative Movement Sciences Institute will bridge fundamental discoveries about the biophysics and physiology of muscle and movement from insects to humans research that Sponberg’s lab specializes in.

Last year, Sponberg also received a prestigious Curci grant to study coordinated movement in hawk moths. The team’s goal is to understand how muscle integrates with the rest of a body’s biology and the surrounding environment to allow animals and humans to move through so many varied environments. 

“Muscle is unlike any other tissue,” Sponberg says. “It enables movement in all animals and allows them to negotiate nearly every environment on this planet. For humans, it is the key piece of our physiology that translates our brain’s intentions into the movement that lets us get around in our world.

Creating models that can understand muscular control in dynamic, complex environments is vital, and could have applications spanning biotechnology, like building more dynamic robotics, and bioeconomy, creating avenues to develop new physical therapy and rehabilitation protocols.

“By integrating across scale and bringing to bear an interdisciplinary team of biologists, biophysicists, and bioengineers that span the scale from molecule to ecosystem, the new Integrative Movement Science Institute will create the next generation of muscle and movement models and experiments to understand locomotion in diverse settings,” Sponberg adds.


Funding for this research is provided by the National Science Foundation.

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Written by Selena Langner

Contact: Jess Hunt-Ralston