Researcher of the Month: Paul Zehr

Dr. Paul Zehr is a neuroscientist studying, among other things, how the nervous system controls the movements humans could make in their everyday lives. His passion for martial arts spurred his interest in science and on the path to kinesiology and neuroscience. Dr. Zehr’s research focuses on understanding neuromuscular plasticity; the ability of the human body to recover its activity after neurological traumas such as stroke. His study on arm and leg coordination during walking proves that despite humans being a bipedal organism, all four limbs get integrated during locomotion, where arms actively contribute to the neurological activity of legs and vice-versa (Zehr, Hundza, & Vasudevan, 2009). After using the quadrupedal-like coordination among human arms and legs in the interventions to successfully recover the lost functions in patients after a stroke (Dragert & Zehr, 2010), Dr. Zehr is currently looking at different ways to include different kind of sensory stimulations like electric impulses to enhance the effectiveness of arms and leg coordination during rehabilitation. According to Dr. Zehr, neural plasticity has no expiration date and understanding the quadrupedal like movement, role of the spinal cord in walking, and adaptive plasticity of nervous system could help in retraining the human nervous system after a damage, and enhancing its ability across all ages. Click here to read more about Dr. Zehr's research

Along with teaching kinesiology and neuroscience to undergraduate and graduate students, Dr. Zehr believes in communicating science to society in an approachable way. His books, Becoming Batman (2008), Inventing Iron Man (2011), Project Superhero (2014), and the forthcoming Creating Captain America (2018), uses superheroes as metaphors in explaining science without overwhelming the readers. The first two books of the superhero trilogy discuss the capability of a human body to possess the strength and powers like “superhuman” Batman and the possibility of inventing a real-life Iron Man suit to connect the human body and brain using modern-day technology. These books explore the possibility to amplify human abilities through right type of training and technology. His book Becoming Batman later formed the basis for the course “Science of Batman” at the University of Victoria. This undergraduate course, taken by students from science and non-science faculties, explores the human body and its adaptability through the life of Batman while discussing concepts like adaptation, aging, nutrition, concussion, steroids, potential and limitations of the human body. Through his books and course, Dr. Zehr builds the bridge between science and superhero fiction and approaches science in an interesting perspective using pop culture references. He considers sharing knowledge, busting myths and, sharing critical messages as an important part of his job as a scientist. He aims to introduce human biology, gene therapy, nanotechnology and its application in his upcoming book Creating Captain America. With the power to redefine what it means to be human today, Dr. Zehr believes it's time for scientists to effectively communicate their research with the society and to have an open discussion about its implications.

Whether you are a 13-year-old girl, an undergraduate or enthusiastic about science, Dr. Zehr has got your back. Along with being a regular speaker at conferences and comic conventions, he writes for The Science, Engineering, and Technology Magazine for Teenagers, Scientific American Online, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Maxim, Popular Mechanics, Discover, Maclean’s magazines, and blogs at Scientific American and Psychology Today.

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