If professional achievement and boundless human qualities were keys to a long life, Kevin Granata, Ph.D., would not have died on Monday April 17. He was one of 32 students and faculty slain by a gunman on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern United States history. The reaction to his death from colleagues is testament to the untimeliness and tragedy of this particular death.
Dr. Granata, a professor in the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department at Virginia Tech, is widely published and cited. His research interests at the Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Laboratory at the school include age and gender factors influencing neuromuscular control of balance and stability, occupational factors influencing risk of musculoskeletal load and instability, neuromuscular performance in voluntary and involuntary control and computational and robot simulation of balance and legged locomotion. His study in recent years of cerebral palsy draws on much of his expertise in these areas.
Prior to his appointment at Virginia Tech in 2003, Professor Granata served in the military and graduated with a Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1993. He held a full time appointment in the Orthopaedic Surgery department at the University of Virginia (U VA) from May 1997 to January 2003, when he took up his appointment at Virginia Tech. Since 2003 he has continued his orthopaedic research at U VA as an adjunct faculty member.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Ishwar K. Puri, the head of the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department, described Dr. Granata as one of the top five biomechanics researchers in the country working on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy.
Professor Granata authored or co-authored scores of papers, many with his Ph.D. supervisor at Ohio State and later research collaborator, William Marras, Ph.D.
Dr. Marras, the Director of the Biodynamics Laboratory at OSU and a professor in the Industrial and Systems Engineering faculty at the school, came to know Dr. Granata well, both professionally and personally. In an interview with Ergonomics Today™ on the day following the massacre, he described the slain professor as a theoretical biomechanist who wondered about issues such as how people get hurt – or the causality of musculoskeletal disorders.
“My area of interest is the spine,” Dr. Marras explained, “and since he studied under me for many years his area became the spine too. We would have discussions about how the spine is injured as a result of the types of work you are doing, and we did very similar types of work for many years, then he branched off into an area called stability, so he brought really the logic of stability to the biomechanics of the spine.”
As an ergonomist and human factors engineer, Valerie J. Berg Rice, Ph.D., CPE, OTR/L, has found occasion to draw on Dr. Granata’s research. The Chief of the Army Research Laboratory-Human Research and Engineering Division of the Army Medical Department, she told Ergonomics Today™ that his research has contributed significantly “to the literature for clinicians and their patients, as well as for researchers seeking to impact the understanding of biomechanics, reflexes and the impact of fatigue.”
Professor Marras’ close association with Professor Granata as his early research supervisor gave him a keen insight into his character. “He was a tremendous person,” Dr. Marras recalled. “Not only was he a very bright intellect, but he was very kind. He was crazy about his family,” – wife Linda and three children. “He always mentioned that family comes first, no matter what he did.”
“In terms of friends and colleagues,” he added, “he was the kind of guy that everybody liked. His strength was (that) he was able to talk about very complex concepts and make them very simple. … And he did that through examples. He would get an example that he knew everyone could understand, and he would relate it to the more complex concepts.”
Dr. Rice Berg echoed the testament to Dr. Granata’s character. “His work and his efforts were always focused on improving the lives of others and bettering the world for mankind, rather than merely answering the call to ‘publish or perish.’” He will be missed professionally and personally by his colleagues and friends throughout the world.”
Speaking for colleagues in the ergonomics and human factors community, she described the prevailing sadness about his death. “There are three of us here at Ft. Sam Houston who attended Virginia Tech in Human Factors and Ergonomics. We hear of our soldiers being killed every day, but we never expect for a university professor to be among those killed by gun fire. Our hearts and prayers are with his family.”
Sources: Associated Press, Virginia Tech; Ohio State University; Dr. William Marras; Dr. Valerie Rice Berg