Human, by the numbers

Just a bunch of balls and springs.
Just a bunch of balls and springs.
Credit: Brittany Bennett

Meet Mathematical Man – or Woman, of course – a kind of twenty-first century update of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

This illustration, compiled and created by a team led by physicist Danielle Bassett from the University of Pennsylvania, US, reduces the entire human body’s network of bones and muscles to precise mathematical co-ordinates.

The graphic arose because Bassett and her colleagues decided to apply a discipline known as network science – more commonly used to map computer systems – to human anatomy. In this exercise bones and muscles are reclassified as “balls” and “springs”, and the researchers say the simplification has the potential to provide better insights into how injuries to one part of the system affect operation in others.

“People who study biomechanics tend to focus on a single part of the body – the shoulder, the wrist, or the knee,” Bassett says. “Because that knowledge is so localized, they don’t have a way of connecting it to the rest of the body or to think about compensatory injuries that are far away.”

The research is published in the journal PLOS Biology.

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