Careers & Student Outcomes

Student Q&A: Biomedical Engineering Master’s Student on the Mechanics of a Perfect Pitch

Samantha Gajda ’23 performs coding in the biomechanics lab, with hopes of working with a professional sports team after graduation

For the past academic year, graduate student Samantha Gajda has been researching the biomechanics of baseball pitches at Stevens Institute of Technology. She worked closely with MATLAB programming and motion capture data.

Samantha Gajda joined Avery Aquino, second year biomedical engineering student, to talk about her experience. Samantha Gajda ’23 performs coding in the biomechanics lab, with hopes of working with a professional sports team after graduation

Aquino: What is the topic of the thesis you’re working on?

Gajda: The thesis that I’m working on is the role of each leg [in playing baseball], separated into the front and back leg, in a baseball pitch leading up to the ball being released. Our phase of interest is the drive up to the ball being released. We’re comparing and contrasting what each leg is doing and how it contributes to the pitch. What’s being used is both in the linear impulse and angular impulse direction, meaning it would be in the x, y, and z [planes] for both of those.

A: How did you become interested in your thesis topic and research?

G: I had taken and really liked a few biomechanics and advanced biomechanics courses during my undergraduate years. I took “Advanced Biomechanics” with Dr. Ravi Nataraj, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), and another one of his classes called “Movement Control Rehabilitation.” That course is based on a lot of what he’s doing in his lab, which is combining virtual reality with motion-capture. I really liked the motion-capture aspect of it, so I had a meeting with Dr. Antonia Zaferiou, BME assistant professor, and I expressed my interest in motion-capture. She told me what they were working on in their lab and I became interested in sports biomechanics. The Ph.D. student I work with, Sam Liu, is doing a basketball dunking study for his dissertation and he previously worked on this baseball project. There were also two master’s thesis students that worked on it last year and I took over from there. I really liked it a lot when I first started and have been interested in sports from there.

A: What is a typical day in the lab for you?

G: For the most part, I spend a lot of time coding in MATLAB. In the beginning, it was a lot of troubleshooting. I definitely spent a lot of time going through code. For the most part, a lot of code was written, but I still had to edit and make changes to it. Currently, the day-to-day is much smoother. It’s now more of, creating the results we want and how we want to express those results. A lot of results-discussion-based meetings with my advisor and some of the Ph.D. students involve trying to get feedback on what we’re looking at. I also spend some time writing the actual thesis.

A: Has there been any memorable achievements or events that you’ve experienced so far?

G: There have been a few moments, like I coded something completely by myself for the first time, which happened last semester. It just feels really good to be able to say that you did it and figured it out on your own, like with troubleshooting. Getting results and being able to see that what you’re working on has become something. We talk a lot about player performance and how to improve that based on the results we’re seeing. So we’re getting to a stage where we’re able to discuss how results would change how someone pitches or can pitch in a better way. We’re getting to the exciting part!

A: Do you have a favorite part of your research or work?

G: Honestly, I like a lot of it which is surprising! I never thought I would like sitting in a lab coding all the time. I learned MATLAB through an online MATLAB course for the first last fall before I began working on this project. Learning to code and then actually using and being fully immersed in it for a whole year has been the best part. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I’m happy about it since I spent so much time working with it and working on it in the lab.

A: Is the research you’re doing what you want to do with your career?

G: Essentially, I’m hoping to do what I’m doing now as a career. I’m not limiting myself to just baseball, though. I do like baseball and it’s very cool, but there’s a lot of sports in general out there. There’s also a lot of sports out there hiring biomechanists/sports biomechanists and I would be really excited to work with a professional sports team. I’d like to do research as well as data analysis, so I definitely want to work with motion capture and setting up all the markers too.

A: Do you have a specific sport or professional sports team you hope to work with one day?

G: I am a really big fan of ice hockey, so that would be the dream sport. I’m not too particular about the team. I support the New York Rangers because they’re local, but I’m originally from California, so I’ve seen a lot of Los Angeles Kings games. So, I’m not super picky about what team I actually work for, I will definitely just switch and buy all of their stuff. It wouldn’t matter to me.

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