The success of many engineered systems is dependent on the extent to which they accommodate the needs of users.  When safety is a critical consideration, computational human models are used to ensure optimal safety designs.  The variability in injury is often caused by the variation of the human bodies among the population.  For example, injury data analyses have shown that, among the adult population, small female, elderly, and obese occupants are at increased risk of death and serious injury in motor-vehicle crashes, as compared with mid-sized, young, and male occupants. Unfortunately, the traditional process for developing computational human models for injury assessment primarily focused on three sizes and shapes of human bodies (i.e., small female, midsize male, and large male), and the limited sizes do not account for the morphological variations in skeleton, internal organs, and external body shape outside of the three anthropometric categories.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) have been improving crash simulations by broadening the types of body sizes and shapes considered.  Our parametric human modeling allows the size and shape of a baseline human model to be rapidly varied based on age, sex, stature, weight, or other anthropometric variables. An online human geometry model can be found at This geometry model provides the foundation for impact simulations of humans with a wide range of body sizes and shapes.

The overall research goal is to develop the next generation of parametric human body models representing a diverse population.  Such models will enable population-based or individualized simulations, which will serve as the foundation for improving safety equity and enabling adaptive/personalized designs for human safety, such as adaptive vehicle seatbelts and airbags, personalized helmets and other safety devices and sport equipment. 

The team currently has the following ongoing projects:

Parametric head model to predict traumatic brain injury and concussion

  • The objective is to develop parametric scalp, skull and brain models to investigate whether sex, head size, and head shape affect the risk of traumatic brain injury.

Parametric cervical spine and thoracic spine models

  • The objective is to develop parametric cervical spine and thoracic spine models to represent vertebrae geometric variations.  Applications of the model can be potentially used for injury assessment in many types of crash scenarios, especially whiplash injuries in rear impacts.

Parametric upper extremity model

  • The objective is to develop parametric humerus, radius, ulna, clavicle, and scapula models to investigate whether age, sex, stature, and body weight may be correlated to upper extremity bone geometries.

Parametric whole-body model for occupant protection in motor vehicle crashes

  • The objective is to develop full body human models with a wide range of sizes and shapes. These models will be used for vehicle safety designs to better protect various vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or obese.

Team Organization

Each project sub-team has a team leader that reports to and meets with the faculty PI. The teams are flexibly structured to enhance creativity and opportunity for student growth. 

First-year undergraduates through master’s graduate students are welcome to apply, and all will be encouraged to stay on the team for more than the two-semester minimum. Leadership roles are available in the lab, and experienced students will be a natural fit for these positions as their knowledge grows over time.

Below are the skills needed for this project. Students with the following relevant skills and interest in the project are encouraged to apply! Although the team consists of subteams, students apply to the project as a whole, rather than individual roles on the team.

Medical Image Analysis (4 Students)

Preferred Skills: Segment and landmark medical images (CT, MRI scans) using image processing software to quantify the 3D geometries of human skeleton and internal organs


Data Analysis and Mesh Morphing (4 Students)

Preferred Skills: Use Matlab or other programming tools to build statistical models of human geometry, and conduct mesh morphing to change a baseline model into personalized geometry targets


Finite Element Simulations (4 Students)

Preferred Skills: Conduct finite element simulations to quantify the effects from human morphology on injury outcomes

Likely Majors: ME, BME

Apprentice Researcher (6 Students)

Preferred Skills: Interest in project material, willingness to develop skills. Students will be integrated into the operations of a sub-team. Open to First-year and Second-year undergrad students ONLY

Likely Majors: Any

Faculty Sponsors

Headshot of Jingwen Hu

Jingwen Hu, PhD

Jingwen Hu is Associate Director, Research Associate Professor & Miller Faculty Scholar in the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute Biosciences Group. He also holds a joint appointment at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Integrative Systems + Design. Dr. Hu’s research interests primarily focus on impact/injury biomechanics in motor-vehicle crashes by a multidisciplinary approach using a combination of experimental, computational, and epidemiological procedures. He is also interested in human modeling for other applications, including pediatric head injuries in falls and child abuse cases, computer-aided surgery, and seating comfort.  One of the highlights of his recent research is the development of parametric computational human models representing a diverse population. Such models have been used to study the injury mechanism and safety design optimizations for various vulnerable populations, such as children, elderly, obese occupants, pedestrians, pregnant women, and wheelchair users. Dr. Hu is an author of over 130 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers. As the lead author, he has received three “Best Paper Awards” (2013, 2015, and 2015), UMTRI Research Excellence Award (2016), and University of Michigan Research Faculty Achievement Award (2017). His research has been funded by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Justice (NIJ), U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), and Auto Industry (Ford, GM, Toyota, ZF TRW, Britax, JCI, etc.). Click here to learn more about Prof. Jingwen Hu’s research. 

Headshot of Monica Jones

Monica Jones, PhD

Monica Jones is an Associate Research Scientist in UMTRI’s Biosciences Group. Dr Jones’ research spans vehicle occupant protection, engineering anthropometry, human factors, and human modeling for vehicle design and other areas of ergonomics, including consumer products and tools to facilitate the design of industrial workplaces. Although her research addresses the population as whole, she has prioritized populations that include child passengers and obese occupants, as well as military and law enforcement personnel. She has led several laboratory and in-vehicle studies on anthropometry, belt fit, and occupant positioning and posture within the vehicle interior aimed at developing design tools for improving occupant protection systems for the diverse population of vehicle users. Dr. Jones’ recent work is motivated by the challenges of increasing vehicle automation. Through test-track and on-road research, she is developing the thorough understanding of the etiology of road vehicle motion sickness that will be necessary to design effective countermeasures. She is also leading research on driver monitoring, an essential component of advanced driver assistance systems. Dr. Jones is the author of more than 60 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers. Her research has been funded by a diverse portfolio of sponsors, including Waymo, AISIN, Toyota Boshoku, Honda R&D, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, General Motors, Apple, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the U.S. Army.   She is a Board-Certified Professional Ergonomist (BCPE) and member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, American Society of Biomechanics, and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International.

Weekly Meeting Time and Location: Our whole MDP team typically meets biweekly on Mondays 5:30 pm – 6:50 pm ET in EECS 1003. Our lab is located at the UMTRI Building, 2901 Baxter Road. Each sub-team arranges a convenient time to meet weekly with the faculty PIs and to work together. A two-term commitment will begin January 2024.

In-person participation is expected. Some team meetings and activities may be held remotely. To be successful on the team, an ability to work via CAEN virtual PC is necessary, and a PC operating environment (as opposed to Mac) with personal computer equipment is desired. We are looking for highly collaborative student researchers.

Course Substitutions: Honors, CS-ENGR/DS-ENGR/EE/CE-ENGR 355 and higher can count toward Flex Tech

These substitutions/departmental courses are available for students in these respective majors.  MDP does not yet have a formal agreement with other departments for substitutions/departmental courses not listed.  Please reach out to your home department’s academic advisor about how you might apply MDP credits to your degree plan. 

Citizenship Requirements: This project is open to all students on campus.

IP/NDA: Students who successfully match to this project team will be required to sign an Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement and complete PEERRS and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) training prior to participation in January 2024.

Summer Opportunity: Summer research fellowships may be available for qualifying students.

Learn more about the expectations for this type of MDP project