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Texas Woman's University Students Win NASA Award For Back-Supporting Space Shirt

Miguel Perez
TWU student Arianne Scheller explaining to KERA's Justin Martin how their shirt helps combat back problems in space.

A six-person team at Texas Woman's University in Denton designed a special type of shirt that targets lower back pain in astronauts. The students created the garment for NASA's Design Challenge Showcase, a competition that pushes students to solve issues related to space travel. 

We talked with two of the students, Curtis Neeld and Arianne Scheller.

Interview highlights

On why they made the shirt:

Neeld: The issue is low back pain in astronauts, and it has an incredibly high incidence rate. That is why we wanted to focus on it.

Prevention mitigation and treatment was our mindset in our design. Their issues happen because of microgravity to the human body. This garment prevents those issues by activating muscles and sort of simulating gravity by producing contractions of the muscles in a non-force-producing way.

On making the garment:

Scheller: We did intra-departmental collaboration with the fabric and textiles department at TWU. Thanks to Dr. Sheri Dragoo, our ideas come to life, which was really amazing because we couldn't have done it without here.

[Team member Alexis] Quintana was our prototype. He took the lead of solid work, which is what the engineering students really do, and he researched, he asked questions, he was on there for hours on end doing things that engineering students take — not necessarily take for granted, but really understand far more than kinesiology students do. So yeah, he did the 3D modeling and all of that.

On what judges thought about the shirt:

Neeld: I think we were kind of a breath of fresh air because we're the only team attacking that front. So, I think that they were very interested and they were very happy to see something like this that hasn't been taken on by a college team or by somebody who has been involved in the TSGC side. I think that they were really kind of impressed and excited to see where it could go to.

The human body it doesn't work really well in space for long periods of time, so we have to do the research and figure out what is going to help facilite humans being in space for a long period of time.

The "Acolytes of Apollo" pictured from left to right: Nicholas Levine, Curt Neeld, Alexis Quintana, Arianne Scheller, Audra Romans, Miranda Moore, Charles Swieczkowski and faculty advisor Rhett Rigby, Ph.D.
Credit Texas Woman's University
The "Acolytes of Apollo" pictured from left to right: Nicholas Levine, Curt Neeld, Alexis Quintana, Arianne Scheller, Audra Romans, Miranda Moore, Charles Swieczkowski and faculty advisor Rhett Rigby, Ph.D.

On other applications for the garment:

Scheller: When judges from the competition came and spoke to us, they loved the fact that it was really relatable. So, a gentleman walked up to us and he said, "I have low back pain, there are people in my family who have low back pain. This is amazing because we can use this."

They loved that fact, so when it comes to low back pain, that is really huge. Outpatient orthopedic clinics and the older populations come in and they say, "I have low back pan. What can you do for me?" 

So, electrical stimulation is something that is often used in the clinics that we currently work at and are going to be pursuing in the future.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.