Professor Aftab Patla passed away on January 29, 2007, 8 months after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He was a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. He arrived at the University of Waterloo in 1982 and devoted his research and teaching career to the study of health, aging and human movement.
Professor Patla earned a BTech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (1975), a MSc Eng in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Brunswick (1978) and a PhD in Kinesiology from Simon Fraser University (1982). During his academic career, he served as Associate Editor of the journal Gait & Posture, Executive Editor of the Journal of Motor Behaviour, President of the Canadian Society of Biomechanics, President of the International Society of Posture and Gait Research and on the Grant Selection Committees of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Medical Research Council.
Highly accomplished very early on in his career, Professor Patla was known for his innovative research and thinking outside the box. His research provided new insights into how locomotion is generated and controlled in humans. He published over 200 scientific papers and used both experimental and modeling techniques to provide insight into important problems related to gait and posture. Questions that guided his research include: What aspect of locomotor patterns are preplanned and stored within the central nervous system? What roles do information from various sensory modalities play in the regulation of these basic patterns for locomotion in cluttered environments? How is this information transformed from the sensory to motor domain? How do factors, such as dynamic balance, energy cost and stress on tissues, constrain the emergence of a particular pattern? How does development and aging influence the expression of locomotor behaviour? What does it take to be independently mobile in a community?
He cared about the positive impact that his research could have, particularly on the well-being of older adults. As a professor and advisor, he set high standards for his students, but was also there to support them in time of need.
Outside of the lab and classroom, Professor Patla had a passion for his beloved Indian culture, good food (especially desserts!), clothes, music, art, film, and TV – indeed, he demonstrated not just a passing interest, but an involved zeal for almost every aspect of life. Also known for his quiet, simmering sense of humour and fondness for practical jokes, he entertained colleagues with offbeat award presentations at conferences. In the early years, after shaving his signature moustache, he once more donned his infamous poker face as he explained to his undergraduate class that Professor Patla was retained for the evening and he—Professor Patla’s twin brother – had graciously agreed to substitute.
Aftab Patla’s passion for, and creativity in, research and life will live on through the many students he mentored (22 MSc, 25 PhD and 4 postdoctoral fellows), his honoured colleagues, cherished wife Guilda, family and friends.