Stephen M. Levin

Stephen M. Levin is an Orthopedic Surgeon with a special interest in tensegrity biomechanics. Levin coined the term "biotensegrity" by adding the "bio" prefix to "tensegrity," to connote the methodical description of biomechanical forces in biological life, from viruses to humans.

Role of Surgical Studies

Surgical studies of mechanics led Levin to find many flaws in the prevalent biomechanical model. Levin began these studies from his perspective as a surgeon trained to operate on the human spine. In the mid 1970s, he began to investigate spinal mechanics. At that time the field of biomechanics had a Newtonian mechanical mindset. Following Borelli (1680), biomechanics modeled biological structure as rigid materials standing on solid ground. But humans, and all biologic structures, are mobile, omnidirectional, gravity independent structures built of ‘soft materials’, foams, colloids and emulsions, (bone and wood are stiff foams, like styrofoam), and mechanicals laws as applied to these structures may be different. Levin sought a model that embraced these qualities, in contrast to the lever-dominated Newtonian approach, and found it in tensegrity studies.

Inspired by Snelson's Needle Tower

Levin reports that the Needle Tower inspired his study of biotensegrity. He had been going to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural history regularly to study the dinosaur skeletons, attempting to comprehend in their great size current theories of animal structure and movement. Levin wrote, " I live outside of Washington, DC, and, in the mid 1970s, I went to study the dinosaurs at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. I could not accept the Borellian model, but could find no other suitable model. Siting on the mall in front of the museum, I looked across and remembered the Needle Tower, a Kenneth Snelson sculpture, right across the mall at the Hirshhorn Museum.. and so began the rest of the story". The Tower enabled him to realize that its articulation of floating islands of compression in a comprehensive tension net were a more elegant explanation than the classic lever and fulcrum. He contacted Snelson, and began his long career of research and publication on the subject.

Tensegrity-based model of the human musculo-skeletal system

Levin models the human spine and other organ systems using biotensegrity. In this system of total body modeling, the spine and limbs are not an assemblage of rigid body segments. They are semi-rigid non-linear, visco-elastic bony segments, interconnected by non-linear, visco-elastic connectors, i.e. the cartilage, joint capsules and ligaments together with an integrated non-linear, visco-elastic active motor system, the muscles and tendons and connective tissue. He developed a hierarchical model of the body that incorporates the mechanics and physiology, from the sub-cellular to the total organism, based on the tensegrity icosahedron. Levin has extended the model to all living organisms, from viruses to vertebrates, their systems and sub-systems.This model is now taught at many of the Osteopathic colleges in the United States, Canada and Europe, some Physical Therapy schools, and incorporated into many manual therapy disciplines, worldwide.

Interview: Levin and Flemons discuss biotensegrity and modeling biomechanics with tensegrity

Stephen Levin and Tom Flemons held a video-recorded conversation on Flemons' back porch, on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada, July 2005. Excerpts:

Links and References

Levin's website,
Ezekiel Biomechanics Group website,
Report on Needle Tower as inspiration, ,
Interview with Levin at IASI 2005, hosted on the Anatomy Trains website,

Portal to Structural Anatomy
A series on the body's musculoskeletal structure
Anatomy:Animals, Bone, Lungs, Pelvis, Spine, Elbow
Concepts: Anatomy Trains, Biotensegrity, Birth, Mechanobiology, Movement Therapy
Tools: Clothing, Prosthetics
People: Earnhardt, Flemons, Guimberteau, Levin, Myers, Scarr