Two ISE professors named Titans of Human Factors

Posted: July 28, 2022
photo of Dr. Marras
Professor William Marras

ISE Professors William Marras and David Woods were named to the inaugural class of the Titans of The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Ohio State was one of only two universities to have two professors named to the prestigious group. 

As part of the honor, Marras and Woods presented at the society’s virtual symposium in February. 

Marras, who was named Distinguished University Professor by Ohio State President Kristina Johnson in May, holds the Honda Chair in Transportation and is the executive director of the Spine Research Institute. He spoke on “Our Journey to Understanding Causal Pathways for Low Back Disorders” at the HFES symposium. 

Driven by curiosity, Marras, who played basketball at Wright State University says he began studying the causal pathways for basketball injuries as an undergraduate. As an athlete, he said he was trying to figure out the ways in which to avoid injuries. 

“So, all this stuff sort of fell together like a set of dominoes,” he says. “It was almost a premonition of what I was going to be doing my whole career.” 

As a systems engineering major, he wondered why the same principles he was studying couldn’t be applied to the human body. “Life is motion,” he says. “You get hurt by doing things and moving. Then you include the dynamics, which changed everything.” 

After earning his master’s degree and a PhD from Wayne State University, he was hired by Ohio State where he began writing proposals for research grants to continue his hypotheses. “Almost all of them hit and it mushroomed from there,” he says. 

Marras’ work in the field is legendary. “We’ve raised $52 million since I’ve been here for research,” he says. “This is all a team – I’ve seen that’s how we get things done.” 

Professor David Woods

An ISE faculty emeritus, Woods says the idea to name the titans was the brainchild of a recent HFES president. “They picked criteria for people who are major players in the field,” Woods says. The goal is to record the talks and archive them so future scholars can benefit from their work. 

Woods centered his talk on his 40 years of research on “Fundamentals about How People (and Human Systems) Adapt to Cope with Complexity.” 

“I thought it was great,” he says of the honor. “I thought it was a great idea to capture the leading figures sharing an overview of their most significant work.”  

He says the titans were asked to speak on the arc of their careers, “looking back on the contributions that mattered the most.” 

He noted that his career began with the changes following the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident in 1979, which occurred at the intersection of “new computer technologies, complex and difficult work situations, control rooms and visualizations, and how to design them.” 

Woods says he used fundamental findings that emerged then to address “the problems, challenges and opportunities in this day and age. You have to be able to seek connections other people might not seek.” 

Story by Nancy Richison

Category: Faculty