He didn't abandon robotics, though. While earning his medical degree, he also earned a PhD in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also did a short research stint at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where he worked on theoretical models of motor control and robotics while also interning at the Los Angeles County+U.S.C. Medical Center.
WHAT HE'S DOING NOW: Sanger now combines his love of pediatrics and computer science as one of the few specialists in children's movement disorders in the country. At the Stanford University Medical Center, he treats children with cerebral palsy and—a particular specialty—dystonia, or involuntary muscle contractions. He develops models of motion and studies the feedback loops between the brain and muscles. By better understanding these motion signals and processes, the hope is that physicians and physical therapists might be able to develop better models for teaching children with brain injuries or movement disorders to move well enough to perform basic tasks.
"Dystonia is a devastating neurological disorder, particularly in children whose motor coordination is still developing," says Terry Sejnowski, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Sanger is a pioneer in taking computer concepts to the clinic, says Sejnowski, who adds: "He is a persistently exciting researcher."
In return, Sanger is excited by the feeling of accomplishment his work gives him. "You can do a lot for these kids that can actually make them a lot better," he says.