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Professor Uses Motion Capture Technology to Help Athletes and Surgeons; Ukulele Virtuoso Profiled

Aired June 29, 2013 - 14:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to "THE NEXT LIST." I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Today two innovators who couldn't be more different, a virtuoso ukulele player who is redefining the instrument that he believes can change the world.

JAKE SHIMABUKURO, UKULELE PLAYER: I tell people that it's an entire yoga session in one stroke. You just feel better.

GUPTA: But first a look at a scientist who is revolutionizing the way athletes train.

DR. JIM RICHARDS, PROFESSOR OF BIOMECHANICS, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE: Over 90 percent of the athletes could improve their performance simply by changing what they're doing in the air.

GUPTA: Athletes are expected to be faster, stronger, and capable of superhuman feats.

RICHARDS: Early on double revolution jumps were the norm, and then it went to triple and now it's quads.

ALEX JOHNSON, FIGURE SKATER: My ultimate goal is to make an Olympic team. With the demands of the sport now, a quad is necessary.

GUPTA: Nearly 20 percent of Olympic caliber figure skaters will suffer a stress fracture this year alone.

RICHARDS: We've seen skaters who are as young as 20 who have had major hip surgeries and replacements.

GUPTA: Motion capture technology is widespread, but Jim Richards can evaluate that data in a way others cannot. His team treats simulation models that help advance ability and also decrease impact on developing bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the only place that does something like this. It blows my mind that he's been able to create this.

GUPTA: Skaters aren't the only ones benefiting from his research. Jim Richards is also changing the lives of children who were born with shoulder injuries. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and this is "THE NEXT LIST."

RICHARDS: The whole point of what we're doing is to accelerate your ability to learn these jumps. We're decreasing the number of impacts, which we would hope would have an effect on long-term health of their lower extremity joints.

I'm Jim Richards, professor of biomechanics at the University of Delaware. Biomechanics is a combination of physics, engineering, mathematics, computer science all rolled into one. The biomechanics lab studies how people move.

When we first moved into the lab, we realized we didn't have a restroom. In order to go to the restroom, we would walk along the ice surface to the front of the building. One day I was speaking to one of the skaters and realized she had large gashes on the front of her ankle areas, and at that point we realized we can do better than this.

Since then, technology has been evolving and my field has been using those innovations to analyze human emotion.

We'll show you what that map looked like in terms of what the forces are under her foot did right now.

Motion capture technology uses reflective markers to reflect light back to the camera. By placing markers in strategic locations on a human body, we can measure where the body is moving at any point in time. We're doing something that most other sports haven't done. We can play what if games. We can change their body position when they're in the air and then re-simulate the jump. The only adjustment you need to make is the arm. That's it. That's going to get you to where you want to be.

JOHNSON: That's crazy.

MITCH MOYER, SENIOR DIRECTOR, U.S. FIGURE SKATING: We've taken something that's very sophisticated and complicated and we've made it very simple. My name is Mitch Moyer. I'm senior director of athlete high performance for U.S. figure skating.

RICHARDS: The work we're doing for figure skating is a joint venture. It's sponsored by the United States Olympic committee, the United States Figure Skating, and the University of Delaware. We've had requests to do this from all over the world, but we can't. Mitch has been very specific that it's U.S. funded for U.S. skaters, so we literally can't bring anybody else in.

JOHNSON: I wanted to have a leg up on the competition. I didn't want the competition to know.

RICHARDS: We're going to make some changes. I'm going to start with the right arm, and as I move this, watch this silver. I can actually control your position.

JOHNSON: That's so cool.

RICHARDS: This isn't the cool part. The cool part is we can play it back and it would have told you what you would have done had you assumed this position.

JOHNSON: I was pretty amazed when I saw myself as a model in 3D and I felt like an avatar. This is an innovative approach to my training.

RICHARDS: And 90 percent of the athletes could change their performance simply by what they're doing in the air. To complete the jump they're going to have to spin at a rate that is extremely uncomfortable. They're spinning at a rate of 300 to 350 rpm. When we put them into positions that are more suited to landing multiple revolution jumps, that goes up to 400 rpm. That's very challenging.

JOHNSON: That's the thing with skating, so much of it is that mental approach when you're going into a jump and rotating.

RICHARDS: One of the things we learned is that almost all the athletes have the capacity to complete the jump. So we're going to see if we can just find you a little bit more rotation velocity by adjusting your arm positions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They moved my arms and showed me how much faster I would be able to rotate.

CINDY SULLIVAN, SKATING COACH: These kids are coming out of here and they're improving their technique in a very short amount of time.

MOYER: What I like about Jim is everything needs to be proven. It's not what you think should happen. It's always, prove it with the data. The things he's helped us with will take us to another level.

JOHNSON: Ultimately I would like to make the Olympic team. This program will help the skaters of the future figure out how to do more quads, and who knows, maybe quints.

RICHARDS: We're still putting markers all over the body. We have to reach a point where the system becomes marker-less, and then we can take this technology into actual sporting events and we can analyze them during competition, and that's the goal.

GUPTA: Coming up, Jim Richards is transforming the way doctors treat children who are injured during difficult deliveries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has tackled a problem that we have wrestled with for the last 100 years.

GUPTA: And later, from center ice to center stage, Jake is a rock star ukulele player whose musical approach shatters convention.


RICHARDS: It's extremely rewarding to watch the work you've done being used to plan surgery. I enjoy working with skaters. It's fun to work with a population that can do incredible things when it comes to physical ability. But the reality is I really like doing the rehabilitation physical side better.

So the goal on this one is to sit straight up and to reach as far forward as you can with your arm. Four out of every 1,000 births will result in brachial plexus birth palsy. Of those four, one to two of them will have permanent injuries. Kids with brachial plexus birth palsy typically have trouble moving around.

NATHAN MCMULLAN, PATIENT: It's really difficult for me to throw with my right hand because I can't get the motion. My name is Nathan and I'm 11.

CHRISTIAN MCMULLAN, PATIENTS FATHER: When Nathan was born, nerves were torn in his shoulder and he couldn't move his arm at all. The nerves regrow. In Nathan's case his muscles have extreme irritation.

RICHARDS: It's been a very, very challenging problem to analyze, and the reason is because of the way the upper extremity is structured. The only really good way they have of measuring that is through CT scan, which provides a significant amount of radiation. That's usually not a decision that they will migrate towards medically. There's not much work going on in the country specifically related to brachial plexus birth palsy.

STEPHANIE RUSSO, MEDICAL STUDENT, DREXEL UNIVERSITY: The technical research he has done is very cutting edge and things that have never been not done before.

RICHARDS: What we bring to the table is the ability to analyze human emotion without it involving radiation. Two years ago we met with the medical staff at Shriners and discussed collaborating with them. We have expertise in biomechanics. They have expertise with brachial plexus birth palsy.

DR. SCOTT KOZIN, M.D. SHRINERS HOSPITAL FOR CHILDREN: My name is Scott Kozin and I am chief of staff at Shriners hospital in Philadelphia. Our mission is to provide innovative state of the art care that truly improves their function, independence, and self- esteem.

RICHARDS: One of the things the doctors asked us to do was help them understand what the shoulder was doing in individual patients.

KOZIN: We collectively have struggled with measuring shoulder motion. The treatment was a little bit like guesswork.

RICHARDS: It's a fairly complex problem but slowly making progress with it.

RUSSO: It's very difficult to measure the shoulder blade using motion capture because of the way the shoulder blade slides underneath the skin. Part of our research has been measuring how the shoulder blade moves.

RICHARDS: We use reflective markers. They cost $10 to $12 a marker. We're cheap. We cover our own. Those cost about a quarter apiece. Musculoskeletal simulation has been used for analysis of lower extremity injuries on a fairly wide scale basis. Far less has been done with upper extremity. We're working on the development of an upper extremity model.

RUSSO: The data we're getting here is really breaking down shoulder function in kids.

RICHARDS: He's got quite a bit of upper rotation. It's like 31 degrees. This one doesn't rotate upward at all. It's 2.27.

KOZIN: It was really weird and awesome to see myself as a skeleton because I was able to see how my motions contrasted to one another.

RUSSO: It's information that previously we've never been able to measure. Getting that is filling holes in our knowledge.

KOZIN: 3D reconstruction shows us how the shoulder moves. I think it's going to redefine how we treat shoulder problems.

Last year it was about 200 tiny little sticker dots they would put all over their shoulder and sort of the map it out. But this year they've really kind of got it down. He has tackled a problem we have wrestled with the last 100 years.

RICHARDS: A lot of things that you try, a lot of approaches and strategies, you don't get the outcomes you're hoping for.

KRISTEN THOMAS, PH.D. STUDENT UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE: Persistence probably pays off in just about every field, but definitely biomechanics. Dr. Richards is definitely the best I've gotten to work with. He just wants to share whatever knowledge he has.

RICHARDS: The stage of this research is still very young, but the data has yielded some very, very valuable information.

MCMULLAN: One of the things I appreciate most about Shriners is their willingness to do research and work with other people, which we fully support, because there's not a whole lot of good, hard research out there about treatment.

RICHARDS: The long term goal of that is to be able to provide us with somewhat of a what-if scenario. So what if we took this tendon and moved it to a different attachment point? How would it affect the child's movement? So a surgeon can, in essence, can perform the surgery to see what the outcome can be on the computer before ever working with the patient.

KOZIN: Jim's work is extremely innovative. He has changed the way we care for people. He can be the building block for future innovative treatment.

RICHARDS: We help the surgeons, the orthopedic community, understand the problem before treatment. We help them plan treatment, we help them evaluate treatment. The reality is at the end of the day, if you can play some small role in helping a child walk better, in helping a child be able to use their arm better, that's very rewarding.

GUPTA: When we come back, a Hawaiian sensation whose Central Park performance exploded into a viral hit. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: Welcome back to "THE NEXT LIST." I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Our next innovator is Jake Shimabukuro, a virtuoso ukulele player. Now though you don't typically think of those two going together, you're about to see why they perfectly describe this agent of change. Jake is soft spoken. He's insanely likeable, and he seems to be as much in all the attention he's getting these days as we were in watching him perform. But don't let his easygoing spirit fool you, because the moment he takes the stage is the moment you'll witness just how totally dominating he's been in redefining the instrument he believes can change the world.

SHIMABUKURO: My name is Jake Shimabukuro. I'm a ukulele player from Honolulu, Hawaii. And I started playing when I was about four years old, learned from my mom. She was my first teacher. I started out playing all traditional Hawaiian music until I was an early teenager, and then I just got into different styles of music.

I tell people all the time you don't have to be a musician to play the ukulele, because when I was a kid, clearly I don't think there was any indication that I would be doing what I'm doing today.

You know, I started playing the ukulele at the age of four, and the first thing I learned were the three chords to Hawaiian vamp, which sounds like this.


SHIMABUKURO: And I was totally happy doing that. With three chords, I immediately could already play 300 traditional Hawaiian tunes. It was great. I mean, and I played it all the time. I remember just rushing home from school so that I could pick up my ukulele and play. I never thought of it as practice, it was just something I wanted to do, like going out and playing with your friends. I wanted to come home and share my ukulele. I was kind of a strange kid, I guess.

When I was a kid, there was no such thing as a touring ukulele player, so I really didn't know what I was going to do with my life. I started out performing in coffee shops just in Hawaii. I had a couple of bands, like in high school and stuff, where we would play together.

There is a lot of traditional Hawaiian music and some other fun stuff, but we were playing some weddings, doing my cousin's birthday party or something. Until about six or seven years ago when I was in New York and I did this local TV show there called "Ukulele Disco," which was a local show in New York that just featured different ukulele players. We shot my segment in Central Park, and at the time I was working on my favorite George Harrison piece, which is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

(MUSIC) SHIMABUKURO: I had a bunch of friends who were going to school on the mainland, and a couple of them e-mailed me and said, hey, there is this video clip of you going around our campus. Did you know about this? And I was like, no, what do you mean? They said, yes, this site called YouTube.

DAN COURTENAY, CHELSEAGUITARS.COM: My name is Dan Courtenay. This is Dan's Chelsea Guitars here in New York City. Customers started asking for ukuleles. One of them said go to YouTube and watch this kid in Central Park play the uke. I was like, OK, whatever. And then another customer said that and then another customer. Finally I had him come around the counter and show me what YouTube was.

SHIMABUKURO: At the time I didn't know what YouTube was. YouTube wasn't that popular yet. So I said OK, and I went on. There was that clip. Someone took it off the television show and put it on YouTube.

COURTENAY: Here is this kid in Central Park that was so spectacular.

SHIMABUKURO: And in a matter of months, I literally had millions and millions of views.

COURTENAY: I owe that guy a lot, because I sold so many instruments because of this guy. A lot of people were still looking at this as toys, and I say, this is what you can do.

SHIMABUKURO: Right after that, my manager started getting flooded with e-mails from people saying, hey, we want to bring this guy out to the west coast or the east coast or Midwest. And that's how it all started.


SHIMABUKURO: Sometimes I can't think of a better way to end my day than coming home and just strumming my ukulele. I joke with people that it's an entire yoga session in one strum. You just pick it up and you just feel better already. I think it's so fitting. The ukulele is getting so popular now, and I think it's because people are discovering how wonderful this instrument is.

COURTENAY: So I've had this store here for about 22 years, and I used to sell these ukuleles by the box because nobody wanted them. Things changed in the '90s, and now this is probably the most popular stringed instrument in America right now. Also it's the number one stringed instrument in Japan. People come in every day looking for these instruments.

SHIMABUKURO: So that's why I think this instrument is very special, because you don't have to have any understanding of music, to be honest, to play it. And I think that's what -- I think it's great because it makes music accessible to everyone.

COURTENAY: What Jake does is astounding because he takes this very simple instrument and makes this ethereal music that is just remarkable. What's also remarkable is that's what he chose to play. There is something magic this instrument. He's making music on this that you couldn't make on the guitar. So it touches everybody from all cultures. This guy is -- it's just wonderful to see a young man be able to do something like that. It's very cool.

SHIMABUKURO: When you can pick up an instrument and just do that, it's like, oh, I made that sound, that thing that just made the room light up or made everyone smile, I just created that, you know. And there's a joy in that. And I wish everyone could feel that.

And that's why I think the ukulele is so great, because with the ukulele, it's so easy to play, it gives everyone that chance to speak music, you know, to learn that language rather than just watching other people speak it all the time, you know. And there is something very empowering about that, I think.

So the whole idea of peace and love and ukulele and just if everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place, that whole idea, I genuinely believe that. Why not? You have people like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you know, Francis Ford Coppola, you know, these are people that have everything in the world they could ever want, but they love playing the ukulele. They love picking up their instrument and just playing together.

I think that's what's beautiful about it. There's no room for egos, you know, when you're playing the ukulele. You pick it up, it is what it is, and it makes you feel young, makes you feel like a kid. It makes life simple. I really believe that this is the instrument of peace and it brings people together, makes the world a better place, and it continues to spread joy throughout the planet.

GUPTA: It's easy to say Jake was born to do what he loves. But his passion has taken him far beyond the stage. This year Jake launched the Four Strings Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to aiding music education programs nationwide. And biomechanics Jim Richards, he's not going to stop until he's able to measure human motion in real-time during live competition. Both innovators are committed to changing the game in their respective fields, and that's what earns them a spot on THE NEXT LIST.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. I hope to see you back here next week on THE NEXT LIST.