Undergrad researcher investigates biomechanics of baby-carrying
Evanna Singh works with research subject Andrea Anderson, lab coordinator in the Department of Anthropology.
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1:58 p.m., March 3, 2009----Evanna Singh came to the University of Delaware in fall 2005 thinking that she wanted to go on to medical school, but an anthropology class with Peter Weil, associate professor, changed that. Now a senior, Singh is conducting independent research and submitting applications to Ph.D. programs in medical anthropology.

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Mentored by Karen Rosenberg, chairperson of UD's Department of Anthropology, Singh is investigating the biomechanical effects of child-carrying practices. Rosenberg is a paleoanthropologist whose research deals with modern human origins and the evolution of human childbirth.

“Human infants are very dependent,” Singh says, “and in many cultures, babies are carried by adults, usually the mother or an older sibling, throughout the day for the first several years of life.”

“Some researchers have suggested that infant carrying may have been involved in the evolution of bipedalism,” she continues, “but I was interested in looking at this subject from a biomechanical, rather than an evolutionary, point of view.”

With the use of a dual-belt treadmill in the biomechanics laboratory of Jill Higginson, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Singh is investigating stance and gait changes in 20 female subjects.

The variables in her experimental protocol are carrying style (front wrap, back wrap, side sling and no wrap) and baby weight (seven pounds and twenty pounds). The “babies” in her experiment are rescue dummies.

Singh and Rosenberg are co-authoring a paper on the study, “The Effects of Infant Carrying on the Human Body and Locomotion,” for presentation at the 78th annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, which will be held in Chicago from March 31-April 4.

“Doing field research is really important for students in the field of anthropology,” says Weil, who inspired Singh's interest in the field. “It helps them to read the literature more critically and provides them with a different understanding of what data means.”

Singh began working with Rosenberg the summer after her sophomore year and was awarded a McNair Scholarship to continue her work during her junior and senior years. The purpose of the McNair Scholars Program is to prepare low-income, first-generation college students and underrepresented students for doctoral study.

In 2007, Singh was one of 105 undergraduates selected as Women of Promise by UD's Commission on the Status of Women.

“Around the world, everyone carries babies, but in very different ways,” Rosenberg says. “Evanna's work puts the universal phenomenon of carrying babies into an evolutionary and cross-cultural context and helps us understand the biomechanical implications of this every-day behavior.”

Article by Diane Kukich