Another (calendar) year nearly gone and to those who have followed our journey over the years, apologies for the lack of news from the Environmental Extremes Lab. To say it has been an intense, frenetic and at times exasperating year, would be an understatement. Nevertheless, we have been working extremely hard behind the scenes, still had some great achievements to be proud off and definitely had lot of laughs!

The view from my Eastbourne Office and where I have looked for inspiration as I have conceived the future of the Environmental Extremes Lab.

Research Activity

On the research front, while we have not had as many research publications as in previous years owing to being in a scoping out new studies and data collection phase, we did hit a significant milestone this year in reaching 100 peer-reviewed research articles published allied to environmental extremes. The first study we published 20 years ago was Local tissue temperature effects on peak torque and muscular endurance during isometric knee extension led by Leo Thornely, one of our outstanding undergraduate dissertation students. We collaborated with Professor Stephen Cheung while he was at Dalhousie University, Halifax, as Leo had carried out an exchange visit there in his 2nd year before joining a masters programme after he graduated. Stephen was a great addition to the paper, offering his expertise and helping us to maximise the meaning of the data. The last study we published this year was led by Dr Ash Willmott, a former BSc and PhD student at Brighton and now a close collaborator and friend –  The reliability of a portable steam sauna pod for the whole-body passive heating of humans. Ash amongst his many skills, has an uncanny ability to see research opportunities others might not and turn them into robust studies that can make a real difference and lead to even more research. There are many other research teams around the world, some that we have the privelage to collaborate with, that will be more prolific than we are in terms of research publications. However, I think we can be very proud of the contribution we have made through our research to both the scientific community and wider society over the last 20 years.

On the PhD front, seeing Rebecca Relf receive her PhD – Heat Reactions To Acute Exercise In Female Breast Cancer Survivors – at the February Graduation Ceremony was a special moment and reflected a new and really important area of research for us. Rebecca had come through our BSc and MSc degree programmes before entering her PhD and before that, my wife had taught her A-level maths at Brighton and Hove High School for Girls. Therefore, it really had been a family affair in supporting Rebecca grow educationally and as a person. Rebecca’ s PhD completion brought the total PhDs coming out of the Environmental Extremes Lab to 15! Rebecca flew the nest during the year to join the teaching team at East Sussex College and we could not be more proud. Still another publication to come from your PhD thesis though Rebecca! It would be remiss of me not to also mention Dr Hervé Di Domenico, who Dr Mark Hayes jointly supervised with Dr Thomas Rupp. Hervé successfully defended his PhD – Optimisation of physical conditioning, cognitive abilities and health of military personnel during first weeks of deployment in External Operation: Fatigue & innovations  in coupling hypoxia trainuing and pre acclimation to heat, delivering an impressive presentation before receiving some tough scrutiny, but great feedback from his external examiners.  Does that make it 16 completions out of the Environmental Extremes Lab? You are welcome back at Brighton Hervé anytime!

Gregor Eichhorn, Chanel Coppard and Julie Gooderick are our existing bunch of PhD students, working extremely hard on their respective doctorates.  Next year should be a great year for each of them, with some really strong studies to share that I am sure will be well received. In 2024 we will also welcome Anya Gough to the Environmental Extremes Lab Team, another BSc and MSc graduate to start a PhD with Dr Jeanne Dekerle, Dr Mark Hayes and Dr Neil Maxwell.

On the external grant front it has been a very productive year for the Environmental Extremes Lab, especially through our collaborations. Although some applications were submitted in 2022, we learnt the outcome in 2023. Our on-going collaboration with the Dr Ana Bonell and the team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council in The Gambia, secured a Wellcome Trust Biological Vulnerabilities grant (~£2m) to ‘evaluate pathophysiological mechanisms of acute and chronic heat stress on maternal and fetal health’. Through this collaboraiton, we were introduced to Professor Ana Maria Vicedo and helped secure a Swiss National science Foundation grant (~£1.5m) to ‘Advance research on extreme humid heat and health’. Dr Mark Hayes continues work with Dr Thomas Rupp and secured another grant (~£120k) from the Agence Innovation Défense, Ministère des Armées, France to investigate, ‘Optimizing the physical condition, cognitive capacities and health of military personnel in OPEX: Cross-effects of muscle blood flow restriction (BFR) training and heat pre-acclimatization on neuromuscular and cognitive fatigue’. I am also really pleased to share that Dr Jess Mee, a former BSc and PhD student at Brighton secured a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship – Impact of heat strain on women’s health and performance – worth nearly £1m that we will collaborate on aswell. We have some external grant applications that we are still waiting to hear on where we are the principal investigators and so hopefully we will have some good news to share in 2024.

Looking at the research we are driving ourselves, especially as we have an eye on the move from the Eastbourne Campus to the Falmer Campus in September 2024 with new laboratories, our focus is about translating science to advocacy for greater health and wellbeing in environmental extremes. The two banners we have created below capture this vision and priorities and maps an exciting future for the Environmental Extremes Lab.

Knowledge Exchange Activity

On the knowledge exchange front, we had the opportunity to support two start-up companies (Cryogenx and Grace Cooling) as they product tested and scoped out research to develop cooling products to treat heatroke in the field and manage hot flushes, respectively. This is a really exciting and rewarding part of the Environmental Extremes Lab’s activity. It gives a chance for our students to get involved and see how science and specifically, environmental physiology can support industry.

We continued our support to athletes competing in the Marathon des Sables (MDS) and Half Marathondes Sables during 2023. Aside from being a great way for our students – BSc, MSc and PhD – to gain experience of working with real clients, it also helps us to realise the reach of our research. A fuller account of what we offer can be read in a previous MDS post.

We have continued to work closely with the altitude awareness charity – Para-Monte – during this last year. This has seen some great collaboration with Dr Ash Willmott from Anglia Ruskin University and we are particularly pleased with the animated video we contributed to as we continue spreading the importance of being altitude aware.

A strategic and implementation plan is currently being developed, but we have been able to identify four distinct workstreams as we support Para-Monte scientifically – Screening, Safety, Preparation and Knowledge & Education. We are really excited with the ideas we have to continue expanding the Para-Monte message and 2024 I am sure will be a great year for the charity.

Teaching Activity

There has been plenty of action on the teaching front, with a full complement of modules being delivered allied to environmental extremes across level 5, 6 and 7. However, we are fortunate that we can expose our students earlier to the field and we can provide environmental extremes educational opportunities across levels 3 to 8. As we posted earlier in the year, we have been taking our SI627 – Expedition Physiology students to the Brecon Beacons for 20 years which was a milestone in itself. We deliver the Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Lectures each year within our curriculum so our students can become our Para-Monte Ambassadors and spread the word.

So, as we come to the end of 2023, looking back there have been some great accomplishments to be really proud off and moments to remember. I am sure there have been other experiences and achievments I could have recounted and people to thank or acknowledge for their contributions…will save them for the book! It is the people we work with that make all this activity happen and fun and so a big thank you to everyone that continues to believe in what the Environmental Extremes Lab does. Of course the students ensure there is an energy to what we do and a special mention to Gabriel (Gabe) Briceno who has helped with Hervé’s PhD data collection and is currently working with Gregor Eichhorn’s PhD data collection…another PhD student in the making! To Mark Hayes, who is my constant sounding board, rock and all things environmental at Brighton, thank you! Also, to our one-stop shop, jack of all trades, Bill Norton (the dude in the glasses below), who has elevated himself to the position of Technical Demonstrator, but carries out so many different and important roles that help the Environmental Extremes Lab and sport and exercise science cogs turn. Thanks Bill for all the hard work this last year!

I am sure there will be some more exciting news to share early in 2024, but until then warm wishes from the Environmental Extremes Lab team.

Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2024!