veski's portraits of innovation

Ready, set, go: the future of locomotion

Professor Marcus Pandy likes to go for a jog now and then, at least twice a month when he finds the time. He also enjoys taking his two daughters to the park, particularly Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens encircled by a running track, known colloquially as the Tan.

While Marcus may not consider himself a runner, he happily describes himself as a scientist who wants to make a contribution. A mechanical engineer by trade, Marcus and his students are developing methods to predict how fast an individual could potentially run, with the ultimate goal of understanding what influences the speed at which people run.

“I would like to be known for making a contribution to a better understanding of the biomechanics of human locomotion and the function of muscles and joints to movement. I am genuinely fascinated and interested in the problem and I strongly believe that this is a good way to spend my life. There’s still so much that we don’t know about walking and running,” he says.

“We don’t know which muscles we use when we walk and therefore we don’t know how to diagnose the biomechanical mechanisms underlying conditions such as stroke, cerebral palsy and osteoarthritis”.

Marcus began his work in robotics but he found human movement more interesting, and completed his doctorate in human walking.

He returned from the University of Texas at Austin to take up the role of Chair of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne. Less than two years later he was promoted to Head of the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

Awarded the second ever veski innovation fellowship, Marcus is self-effacing about receiving a prestigious fellowship, saying many others could have been awarded one and that maybe he just had the right timing.
One of the main reasons for bringing his wife Dr Romana Kristelly and their girls back to Australia was to support his grieving father, following his mother’s passing.

“I had been away for 20 years, having left at 23, after doing my undergraduate studies. It was like coming back to a foreign country. Australia had changed so much and I had reverse culture shock. My wife was pregnant with our second child, Olivia, while our first child, Anika, was 18-months old.”

When he first arrived back in Melbourne, Marcus says it was a pretty lonely existence but being a veski innovation fellow made the transition much easier.

“They counselled me in the processes of grant-writing, team building, handling media, and so on. All of this helped introduce me to a new way of life and made the transition smoother. It also gave me a social outlet that I could rely on two to three times a year. Ask me about the veski family now and it’s hard to articulate. The ‘veski family’ sounds a bit corny but it truly does feel that way. There’s a nice secure feeling that there are people there to help you. It brings me some comfort to know this.”