Engineer Francisco Valero-Cuevas '88 on "Neuromechanics: What Control Problem Does a Biological Brain Face When Controlling a Mechanical Body?"
Understanding the coevolutionary process that led to organisms as we know them is critical to understanding their function, dysfunction, and rehabilitation. In recent decades, the perspective that muscle redundancy is the central problem of motor control has dominated this scientific endeavor. Therefore the "problem" the brain solves is cast explicitly and/or implicitly as one of neural computation needed to select viable solutions from the many allowed by the redundancy/adaptability that comes from having "too many" redundant or overcomplete muscles or joints.
However valuable and informative, this perspective is also paradoxical with respect to the evolutionary process, the clinical reality that even mild injury leads to measurable dysfunction, and a rigorous mechanical analysis of complex systems and complex behavior. Taking an approach based on mechanics, computational motor control, mathematics, and pathology, Valero-Cuevas describes a perspective for the study of sensorimotor function that begins to resolve these apparent paradoxes - namely, that vertebrates have barely enough muscles to meet the mechanical requirements of real-world ecological tasks.
Valero-Cuevas graduated from Swarthmore with a B.S. in engineering. He completed a masters degree in mechanical engineering at Queen's University and a Ph.D. at Stanford University. Since 2007, he has served as a professor of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Division of Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California.