Geoff Handsfield ’08 Wins Early Career Research Award

HandsfieldAn East Carolina University graduate’s career is reaching new heights down under.

Dr. Geoff Handsfield ’08 received the Early Career Research Award from the Australia and New Zealand Orthopaedic Research Society in October.

“I was honestly very surprised,” Handsfield said recently via e-mail. “I’m new to the Australasia research community and the young researchers that I was competing against have done outstanding research. So it was very humbling to be selected for the award out of that field.”

Handsfield studies the musculoskeletal system to develop treatments for people with movement disabilities. “A big area of my research is cerebral palsy – I want to make sure that people with this disorder get treated early, consistently, and effectively,” he said. “I’ve ended up doing work in a lot of different areas, including muscle size profiles in athletes, the mechanics of the Achilles tendon, and of course muscle anatomy and image-processing. As a bioengineer, we are constantly trying to develop new tools and it’s often the case that our tools can be applied to different patients than the ones we had initially set out to help. So you often wind up doing research in a lot of different areas.”

Handsfield has been living in New Zealand for the past six months, working on a postdoctorate at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute.

“I was interested in [this program] because they have really fantastic research going on in musculoskeletal biomechanics and bioengineering,” he said. “Australia and New Zealand together are active in biomechanics research and coming here to interact with this research community was an incredible opportunity.”

After completing his doctorate at the University of Virginia, Handsfield received a fellowship from the Whitaker International Program, which funds American bioengineers to go abroad and do post-doctoral research overseas.

New Zealand is a great place to live, Handsfield says. “The weather never gets really hot or really cold, they have beaches and mountains all within easy driving distance, and there are tons of outdoor activities to do in your free time. People are also really friendly, which has been great since my wife and I didn’t know anyone here when we moved.”

Handsfield graduated from ECU in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He also studied math, and both subjects provided a great foundation for his career.

“Biomechanics, my area of specialization, involves applying principles from math and physics to the human body to understand how it moves and what goes wrong when someone has a disability.”

While at ECU, Handsfield was an EC Scholar and the recipient of an Alumni Scholarship. He was also a member of the swim team, which taught him a lot about hard work and discipline that came to benefit his research.

“We trained for 20 hours every week, including morning and afternoon practices, weight-training three days a week, and Saturday practices. You also have to stay on top of your classes, your nutrition, proper rest, and injuries, so you learn to manage your time really well,” he said. “I think the biggest thing that swimming taught me was to just put the work in day after day. Research is a slow process. You usually don’t get rewarded daily or weekly for your efforts and there are also setbacks where you spend weeks or months on something and it ends up not working. But in the long run, being able to put in good work everyday and not be deterred by the setbacks is what leads to success.”

By Jackie Drake

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