Forensics Expert Bridges Forensics with Movement in New Series

study of anatomy of motion benefits from cadaver studies

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Forensic anthropologist Beth Murray wants to explain how we move. The interconnectedness of our muscular and skeletal systems keeps us in motion 24 hours a day. Cadaver studies just met the animation of life.

Beth Murray
Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray is one of fewer than 100 anthropologists certified as a Diplomate by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Photo by Wondrium

In Wondrium’s new series How We Move: The Gross Anatomy of Motion, Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University, examines the human body’s musculoskeletal makeup. Dr. Murray, who is also a board-certified forensic anthropologist, takes the body one region at a time to detail how we move, from turning our heads to balancing on our feet.

Forensics may seem like a far cry from musculoskeletal movement, but Dr. Murray’s experience with cadaver studies helped inform her material for How We Move. In an exclusive interview, she talked about how forensic anthropology and the anatomy of movement overlap.

New Series, New Tech

It’s impossible to discuss Dr. Murray’s new series without mentioning the Anatomage system, which is essentially a giant tablet that runs a state-of-the-art, interactive app which simulates an autopsy table with a cadaver. She uses this to look at the human body one layer at a time, though the episodes that include it are clearly labeled for the squeamish—and series content developer Brandon Hopkins said it’s far tamer than he would have imagined.

“What it does is bring up images of actual cadavers that you can rotate in space, you can dissect and take off things in layers from skin to muscles to bones,” Dr. Murray said. “We go through the body in a regional approach and then there’s a review lesson that uses the Anatomage system and actual images of cadavers. We chose to package [those episodes] separately in three of the 24 lessons so if somebody has young kids around they can choose a time and a place—or if they really don’t want to see that.”

Dr. Murray said that she uses this same technology at Mount St. Joseph University in the anatomy lab. She teaches gross anatomy in the graduate programs and brought this experience to Wondrium for her new series. It helps set the series apart both from other Wondrium series and other anatomy material.

“The other thing I think is different about it is that […] this package looks at it in a regional approach,” she said. “Normally when you study anatomy and physiology, it’s what’s called a systems approach because you study systems—you study the digestive system, the reproductive system—but this anatomy course is like what’s done in graduate-level work. It’s a regional approach.

“So you look at the head, and all the structures of the head; you look at the back, for example, and we integrate the bones, muscles, and nerves of that region.”

The Bare Bones of It

Dr. Murray said that even as a child, she had an interest in the skeleton, as many children do. She said that since the skeletal system is known as the framework of the body, anyone can tell a lot about an organism based on its skeleton. However, as she got into anthropology, she retained an interest in hard sciences and steered toward education.

“For those of us that are not directly in the health care realm, it’s so gratifying to think that I’ve literally trained thousands of people who are currently health care professionals,” she said. “That’s why I teach: Knowledge is great in and of itself, but when you can give it to someone else, it continues to live and thrive.”

Her career has literally spanned several generations; some of her recent students have been the children of her earlier students, during her 30-plus years of teaching.

“I’ve never had a student who I would consider was bored in anatomy and physiology, because we’re literally learning about ourselves,” she said. “We’re learning about processes and functions and structures that we take for granted every single day. Not just in exercise either, but in simple actions like brushing our teeth, taking a walk—it’s the musculoskeletal system that kind of powers us through our day [and] gives us the movement that we need for everything from being a ballet dancer to washing the dishes.”

A Break and a Fall

According to Dr. Murray, her new series appeals to sports enthusiasts and athletes as well as those who do exercise and yoga, but it also uses clinical correlations for the appropriate region of study. These vignettes give an example of how the body works underneath the skin. She said that we think someone falls down and breaks their hip, but it’s often the other way around—the hip breaks due to osteoporosis, causing them to fall.

“It’s not just the body that we live in that fascinates me; it’s everything that has to go right to make it work,” she said. “Then the things that can go wrong often involve the musculoskeletal system.”

How We Move: The Gross Anatomy of Movement is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily