Outstanding Researcher of the Year

Nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Scott Trappe, this year’s Outstanding Researcher of the Year Award winner, started thinking about where he would get his doctorate degree. As a masters student at the University of Colorado, he turned to his advisors for help. “I loved physiology and hoped I might make a career out of my interests in sport and exercise physiology.  So, I asked the advice of my Colorado advisors who were all graduates of the Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory.

Dr. Scott Trappe observes a cardio respiratory fitness test taken by Kevin Griece.

Dr. Scott Trappe observes a cardiorespiratory
fitness test taken by Kevin Griece.

The road forward

Trappe was accepted into Ball State’s Laboratory’s Ph.D. program in 1991 and has never looked back. Shortly after arriving, the Human Performance Lab (HPL) in the School of Kinesiology began a relationship with the NASA Space Shuttle program. “When we got involved with NASA, which was for my post-doctoral work, our contribution was based on our expertise in studying the generative wasting effects on muscle during weightlessness in space”

The perfect match

Dr. Dave Costill, a retired professor, and the founding Director of HPL brought Trappe to BSU.  “I kept him on as a post-doc and that was during the period when we were doing a lot of the space shuttle research. He and I traveled a lot together. I knew his philosophy. I could see that he and I were so much alike. That it was a perfect match,” said Costill.
Costill and Trappe worked together on the NASA project. “We’re trying to help NASA design the best exercise to maintain astronaut health while they’re in space. That started with the space shuttle flight, that was two weeks long and then that became an integral part of our work with the International Space Station, which requires the astronauts to stay in space for more than six months,” Trappe said.

The NASA research

Specifically, Trappe and his students study muscle biopsies from the astronauts. Trappe said they are looking for the sweet spot – training the crew like athletes while not overdoing it. “Over the years, we have developed some special training protocols and have helped inform NASA as to what counter measure should be taken to prevent the loss of strength and endurance while in space.” The exercise benefits research

Trappe and his team aren’t just working with NASA. They’re also embarking on a new longitudinal study with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “NIH has invested $170 million to uncover the biological and genetic benefits of exercise.  We know exercise is good for you, but we don’t know how it works at the genetic level.  Those studies will be the focus of our work for six years or more. In concert with NIH and several other research institutions, we are in the planning phase with the whole study.”

His true motivation

In his career at Ball State, Trappe has received $18 million in research funding. It is something he’s proud of but he will tell you that isn’t his motivation. “Research is expensive but it provides us the opportunity to pursue some interesting questions. I’ve always been passionate about the science and not the money. Funding only seems to come when we generate worthy ideas. I would have never dreamt when I was getting started that we would receive the types of large grants that we have received,” Trappe said.

Cutting edge research

The man he replaced as the director sees Trappe as a talented teacher, mentor, and researcher who is deserving of the award Outstanding Researcher of the Year. “His work is at the cutting edge of science, which involves competing for grant money against places like Harvard and Stanford and the Mayo Clinic. His team is at the top of the list. I can’t say enough good things about his team,” said Costill.

It’s a team approach

Trappe said, “It’s an honor to receive this recognition from Ball State University, but I really look at it as an honor for the lab because it’s a team approach. I’m surrounded by great people that are working hard. Some people may not see the team effort that research requires.  The results reflect the productivity of a lot of people over many years. I’ve been fortunate to be part of the lab and to have worked with a lot of good people.”


This article was written by Linda White.