Professor giving his share of app proceeds to student chapter

February 21, 2013  

McGlothlin mobile app

Professors James McGlothlin (back) and Robert Proctor (left) stand behind graduate students Joey So (right) and Ben Claus to symbolize the professors' support of students. Claus is showing the lifting equation app he developed from McGlothlin's work, and So is holding the manual. McGlothlin is donating his $1 per sale of the well-received app to the Purdue student chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, in which So is president and Proctor is faculty advisor. (Purdue University photo/Steven Yang)
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Purdue professor James McGlothlin, seeking to multiply the good effects of his new app, is donating his proceeds from its sales to a student organization.

McGlothlin is giving $1 per sale of the app to the Purdue student chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society for uses of its choice. The app (NIOSH RWL), on sale by Apple, goes for $2.99. It is a mobile version of a calculation model known as the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation. It calculates the Recommended Weight Limit (RWL) and a Lifting Index (LI) that helps the user analyze a lifting job especially in regard to risk of back injury.

 The mobile app extends the equation's use in field research and real-world applications to reduce and prevent back injuries. The Lifting Equation was developed by scientists and engineers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

To make it mobile, McGlothlin enlisted Ben Claus, a graduate student in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, to design the app itself. Claus and Apple each get a dollar per sale.

"Essentially we've taken a math formula and translated it into a software program," McGlothlin says. "Ben did some other work for me and did such a great job that we started talking about this. I went on sabbatical in January 2012 and came back in July, and he had it up and running." So that more may use the Lifting Equation, Claus is working with McGlothlin on an Android version.

McGlothlin, associate professor of health sciences and industrial technology, says he is supporting the HFES chapter because of its purpose and its quality.

"The emphasis of my PhD is in ergonomics," he says. "I've supported and been a member of this organization for a long time. HFES also is the organization most closely connected to the NIOSH Lifting Equation biomechanical model. It's a good club with good leadership and a great mentor."

That mentor is Robert Proctor, Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences -- human factors and ergonomics are strongly interdisciplinary subjects -- who speaks proudly about the organization.

"Purdue's HFES chapter has been recognized as an outstanding student chapter by the national society for several years in a row," Proctor says. "This is because we are engaged in many activities to promote the field of human factors and ergonomics and to provide our members a variety of academic and professional experiences." 

Those activities and experiences are what McGlothlin wishes to support and what the chapter intends to enable with his donations. Chapter president Joey So, a PhD student in human factors in the School of Industrial Engineering, says she and the other students are grateful for the opportunities this opens.

"We anticipate using the funds for field trips and company/faculty visits, which usually cost a lot of money on car rental and entrance admission fee if we're visiting museums or exhibits," she says. "We also organized an alumni dinner during the HFES National Meeting. All these events provide a wonderful platform for students, alumni and faculty to network and share their work and research experience."

Proctor underscores the point in a written comment: "Prof. McGlothlin, who specializes in occupational ergonomics, has been a strong supporter of the chapter for many years. The recent contribution of his share of the proceeds from the RWL app that he and Ben developed is an example of his commitment to the student members and will be of great benefit in helping the chapter accomplish its outreach and activity goals."

So notes additional benefits of faculty involvement: "The involvement of faculty provides great opportunity for the students to learn the expertise of the faculty. Often, our events and meetings inspire students' research ideas and assist them in looking for their research committees."

McGlothlin says that for the time being, he is making a direct donation to HFES. He also is working with Purdue officials to develop a financial mechanism by which his $1-per-sale share goes directly from Apple to the HFES chapter's account at Purdue. If that can be completed in a way that satisfies legal requirements, it could become a model for others, professors or not, to make such donations to student organizations.

Neither McGlothlin nor the officials devising the financial arrangement know of another instance like this in which a professor set up an ongoing donation based on app sales.

The app has had a good reception, achieving 4.5 stars out of five on the Apple store site, he says.

"It's the only federal model in existence for predicting back injuries," McGlothlin says. "I was working at the CDC at the time this model was invented in 1981."

The model was updated in 1991, when McGlothlin served on the NIOSH review team to help validate the updates.  However, the updated Lifting Equation became more complex and was easier to use with a computer, McGlothlin says. He took that updated version and developed it for the app version.

McGlothlin retired from CDC/NIOSH on Jan. 1, 1999, he says, and started at Purdue on Jan. 3. In addition to his faculty role, he is director of the Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences Graduate Program.


About the Purdue chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (provided by Joey So, chapter president): The HFES Purdue student chapter recently received the Gold Chapter Award from the national organization during the 2012 HFES 56th Annual Meeting. This award is earned by chapters that demonstrate excellence in inviting guest speakers, organizing field trips, outreach, collaboration, service to HFES national, social, newsletters, website, and creativity. The HFES alumni dinner during the HFES Annual Meeting was held in Las Vegas in 2011 and Boston in 2012, providing a wonderful opportunity to network among alumni, professors and current students.  

In particular, the chapter received best National Ergonomics Month (NEM) Action Plan award among other student chapters’ submissions. NEM is targeted at promoting human factors/ergonomics to the general public through outreach and community service. For the monthly's technical meetings, the chapter invited speakers from Italy, NASA, John Deere and professors from other institutes). Other major event includes organizing a company visit to John Deere Headquarters at Moline, Ill., and one of the John Deere factories at Davenport, Iowa. Seven students and two professors joined this field trip and met with the ergonomics program manager and the University Relations recruiter from John Deere during the tour.

Writer: Dan Howell, 49-42028,

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