Greek Researcher Wins Historic Grant at University of Nebraska

UNO faculty member Nathaniel Hunt, PhD, demonstrates how his device triggers a controlled fall while researching his project titled “Mechanisms of Fall Resistance to Diverse Slipping Conditions.” as part of Dr. Nicholas Stergiou’s Biomechanics center at the University of Nebraska.

Dr. Nikolaos Stergiou, a Greek native and a professor at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, is a leading researcher in the field of biomechanics. He and his team have won a historic $10.3 million grant which will fund life-changing research in the areas of fall prevention, Parkinson’s Disease, prosthetics and peripheral arterial disease.

The professor told the Greek Reporter that his journey has been a long one since he first became a professor of Biomechanics in 1996.

“Our start was extremely humble, actually. Initially, I just had a small room with one person with a Master’s degree helping me, and through hard work and God’s blessing we arrived where we are now,” he relates.

Dr. Stergiou added that “We are at the point where I have my own building, practically.  I have my own department with a lot of people working here. But I think one of the major reasons that we have been so successful is because we have been opening grounds with a completely new discipline, with biomechanics.”

He believes that the clinical problems they are trying to solve by using biomechanics are completely unique — and this is actually why he has been so successful in terms of receiving external funding from the US National Institute of Health.

The field of Biomechanics has the type of equipment and machines which allow researchers to study movement and to make possible things that other people, up to now, have not been able to do in terms of analyzing human movement.

“Practically, we have put movement under the microscope,” the professor points out. “We have high-speed cameras and high-speed computers where we can store and analyze information. So, right now we can actually analyze movement,” he explains.

Dr. Nicholas Stergiou, the Director of Biomechanics Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, flanked by (from left) Dr. Philippe Malcolm, Dr. Vivien Marmelat, Dr. Nathaniel Hunt and Dr. Jorge Zuniga.

The new grant that Dr. Stergiou and his team have received will allow them to continue building their Center for Biomechanics. This vital funding is a continuation of an initial $10 million grant the group received five years ago.

The professor explains to the Greek Reporter that “We have a very large center in human movement variability. We are looking at why we can never do the same task in the exact same way. This is called “repetition without repetition.”

Stergiou continues “This new grant will allow us to have four new research projects housed within the center. They will be in the areas of Parkinson’s, peripheral arterial disease, 3D printed prosthetics for children and falls in the elderly.”

“In addition, we will have clinical mentors and consultants that we will bring together,” he adds.

The Biomechanics department has also built three large core labs in the center which can be used, for a fee, by scientists from other universities and people who wish to perform research.

Dr. Stergiou earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from the Artistotle University of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, where he was born. In 1989, at the age of 24, he moved to the United States to study for his Master’s and Ph.D. in Biomechanics at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

After serving in the Greek Army from 1995 to 1996, he moved to Omaha, becoming an Assistant Professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Nebraska.

Greek student Prokopios Antonellis (left) with Professor Nikolaos Stergiou (right) at the University of Nebraska’s Biomechanics Research Center.

Stergiou has been interested in physics and movement in terms of sports, since a young age. Because of this, he fell in love with the field of biomechanics because it is a discipline that could bring the two areas of study together.

“I was actually fascinated with the fact that if you change a shoe it could really affect the way that you walk. It could produce problems if you had the wrong shoe on, or could fix problems if you put the right shoe on, in terms of walking, running, jumping, etc.,” he states.

When asked how he has managed to achieve all that he has, Professor Stergiou told the Greek Reporter that “I look at things only in a positive fashion. I only believe in hope. I also believe that Greeks in general have tremendous spirit, ingenuity, and capabilities and are extremely hard-working people.”