Environmental Physiology at the University of Brighton from the Beginning

Environmental Physiology has been an important feature within the broader discipline of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton for over 25 years, with activities of academic, research and consultancy priority. However, the presence of environmental physiology when we were Brighton Polytechnic and before that, the Chelsea College of Physical Education dates back over 50 years to the 1968 Olympics! From the early days of the Chelsea School of Human Movement (which had moved from London in 1949) to when we were Chelsea School of Physical Education, Sports Science, Dance and Leisure, then Chelsea School of Sport and onwards to the School of Sport and Service Management before finally where we are now…the School of Sport and Health Sciences within the University of Brighton, there has been a strong commitment to study environmental extremes, which has enabled thousands of students to learn and reap the benefits from this exciting and rewarding, if not challenging field. Further, a considerable body of research now exists allied to environmental extremes that has been borne out of a long-lasting existence. As we know, a journey of a thousand miles (or students) begins with a single step! So this summary below is a whistle-stop tour through the evolution of environmental physiology that has led to the Environmental Extremes Lab at the University of Brighton as it is today.

It seems sacrilegious not to mention Mexico City and altitude in the same breath when considering how the hypobaric hypoxic environment influenced sports performance at the 1968 Olympics. Our first environmental physiologist at Chelsea College of Physical Education, Dr Ray Watson, attended the Olympics back in 1968 to support the athletes and help them cope with the altitude. If this is not impressive enough, Dr Watson worked and supported Kipchoge (Kip) Keino no less in the lead up to the Olympics.  For those too young to know or remember, Kip Keino was amongst the first in a long line of successful middle and long-distance runners to come out of Kenya. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics he won the 1500 m Gold Medal, defeating the favourite and world record holder, Jim Ryan (US) by 20 metres, the largest winning margin in the history of the event. What was remarkable about his performance was that he won gold with an Olympic record (3 min 43.91s), when all other distance running events, male and female, were slower compared with the current world record at the time.  Kip Keino was born and trained at altitude and with Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes winning 50% of the middle and long distance medals, this was instrumental in launching interest into altitude and sports physiology and how altitude training could improve endurance performance. Ron Clarke’s quote captured the feelings of many back in 1968, “This isn’t the Olympics—it’s a triangular match between Kenya, Ethiopia and Mexico“. Kip Keino’s accomplishments led him to join 23 other athletes to be inducted as inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall Of Fame in 2012.

The emergence of environmental physiology into the curriculum came as the result of Mr Paul McNaught-Davis (one of the physiology lecturing staff who went on to become our Head of School years later) joining the Chelsea College of Physical Education in 1976, which soon became the East Sussex College of Higher Education following a merger of the Chelsea College, Eastbourne College of Education and Seaford College in that year. With a physical education background, a subsequent MSc in Human Biology from Loughborough University (taught by Professor Ernest Hamley) and mentoring in areas allied to environmental physiology from Dr Ray Watson, Paul realised the opportunity for developing the study of sport science and environmental physiology from it.  In the same year as Paul’s arrival, Liverpool John Moores (LJM) University started the first BSc degree in Sport Science. In 1977, Paul with colleagues Alan Tomlinson and Graham McFee (now Professors) visited LJM, to learn as much as they could about the course with the intention of starting up an equivalent course.  In 1980 the Chelsea School of Human Movement and sport science provision moved to be part of Brighton Polytechnic as it was called (which it was until 1992 when it became the University of Brighton). It was in the same year that they took the bold move of starting the second ever BSc (Hons) Sport Science undergraduate degree in the country. The more senior member of the academic staff at the time, Dr Trevor Wood, led the course very successfully, where the principal objective was the development of the scientific study of sport and exercise, realising the value it could offer many students and those who could benefit from the graduates’ knowledge and experience.   [NB. From those early days, where 26 students (16 men, 10 women) were recruited onto the BSc (Hons) sport science degree in the first year, to 50 in the second year, it has grown to 140 students entering the programme on an annual basis].

The Old Science Labs (Hillbrow Building)

The location of the sport and exercise science laboratories, and therefore the provision for environmental physiology, has taken a curious route over the years. Originally, the science laboratories were sited in the main Hillbrow building where one of the lecture rooms (G14) is now housed.

Mr Buckley (technician)  talking to students in the Hillbrow Science Lab (Top, 1959); Miss Cutland (lecturer) teaching students the measurement of blood pressure in Hillbrow Science Lab (bottom, 1959)

In the early 1960s, the laboratories were moved over to the Welkin building (where they have returned to today) and were housed on the first floor of the Welkin building alongside a common room (Photo A, lefthand building, where our current exercise physiology and general laboratory now exist). At this point however, there was still no coherent existence of environmental physiology in the curriculum or in a research capacity. The righthand building of Photo A is Bishopsbourne – which used to be the College library, but is now the Student Union. On the ground floor of what is now the Welkin laboratories building (Photo B, righthand building) was the Welkin Dining Room and kitchen. In time, the rehousing of the dining room enabled another laboratory and Dr Ray Watson to move into the old kitchen and Alan Allchorn (then a senior technician) with them (effectively where Sportswise, Rob Harley and Flo Pietzsch’s office is now). The Welkin House (Photo C, lefthand building) housed the sick bay, offices and administration with the top floor the Principal’s private quarters. Photo D captures the Welkin Labs, flanked by Welkin House (left) and Bishopsbourne (right). All photos taken in 1962.

Bishopsbourne College Library (1962)

The Welkin buildings below photographed in 1976 still used to house registry, finance and student services (including the doctor, nurse and physiotherapist) in the left part of the building (now Welkin House) on the ground and first floor. On the top floor (where our research students are now housed) was still the private accommodation for the Principal of Chelsea College of Physical Education, Miss Audrey Bambara until 1976 when Chelsea College of Physical Education merged with other educational institutions in Eastbourne. In the right part of the building (now entirely the Welkin Laboratories) alongside the laboratories on the first floor, by 1976 a library had taken over the entire ground floor serving the Chelsea College of Physical Education students.


However, when the Chelsea College of Physical Education merged with Eastbourne College of Education and Seaford College in 1976 becoming the East Sussex College of Higher Education, the library needed to expand to accommodate more students (Queenwood library served one part of the campus and the Welkin library the other part). With the need for more space for the campus library, in the early 1980s the sport science laboratories and the academic staff were rehoused to two other university buildings, Bishop Carey and Sunnymead some 400 m away, allowing the library to take over the entire Welkin Laboratory building.








In 1984 while our laboratories were located in the Bishop Carey Building, it was the intervention of Alan Allchorn (still a senior technician, but who went on to become our Principal Technician in Bishop Carey and School Technical Manager in the Welkin Laboratories) alongside Paul McNaught-Davis’ drive to develop environmental physiology into the curriculum, that convinced Dr Ray Watson that instead of another EEG pen recorder, we would benefit from a chamber that controlled the environmental conditions. Without internet in those days, Alan Allchorn searched industrial trade directories, located a company (Ringway) and managed to negotiate the price down for our first environmental physiology chamber (~ 2.5 m x 2.5 m x 1.5 m) costing £9,950! Alan Allchorn (Principal Technician) and Dave Thomas (Senior Technician), both with engineering backgrounds, were able to install the chamber that resulted in our first, dedicated environmental physiology laboratory. Although temperature was the focus for the chamber, 500L Douglas bags with nitrogen enriched air were fed through tubes into the chamber to create a hypoxic environment as well.

Our old (blue) environmental chamber with Jo Doust (now Head of School) cycling on the ergometer (bottom photo).

In addition to housing a small, blue environmental chamber, the environmental physiology laboratory also had an underwater water tank that Dr Peter Bale predominantly used for densitometry (underwater weighing to estimate body density and then body fat). The first model was originally designed out of plywood by Alan Allchorn and Dave Thomas (essentially a boat inside-out), but sprung the odd leak meaning students and experimenters used the tank without socks or shoes on! Model 2 of the tank was a polypropylene food storage container that Dave Thomas had come across while working in the food industry. To get the tank in the building, Estates had to take the door off and remove a foot of external brickwork and then rebuild the entire doorway!

Paul McNaught-Davis created, first a third year option ‘Environmental Investigations’ module before content within the core 2nd year physiology module grew alongside the interest such that a 2nd year choice ‘Environmental Physiology and Sports Medicine’ module soon followed. With the 3rd year Environmental Investigations module having an applied focus to it, field trips were integrated into the module, including an annual trip to the Institute of Naval Medicine in Gosport, UK.  With a focus towards hyperbaric environments, students learnt about the consequences and injuries associated with diving from Dr Mike Tipton (now MBE and Professor at the University of Portsmouth). Owing to similar body masses to humans, goats were tested at different hyperbaric environments to learn more about decompression sickness “the bends”. Apparently, when goats experience the bends, they lift up a hoof!

Early Support to Challenges in Environmental Extremes

In 1987, our own current Head of School, Professor Jo Doust, was then part of a team that supported a local lifeguard to complete a gruelling 500 miles of running through the United States Death Valley. This was equivalent to a marathon a day for 20 days in temperatures that reached 50°C! The newspaper clippings and the QED video excerpt give a really good account of the challenge and support Jo Doust and Dr Steve Bull (then sport psychology lecturer) provided.


Click on newspaper clippings to expand and read

Click Death Valley Runner link to watch video

Alongside the more extreme challenges that were supported, the old labs were graced with the presence of some world class athletes over the years (Steve Ovett, Chris Boardman, Paula Radcliffe, Kelly Holmes). Alan Allchorn recounted arriving for his interview for the senior technician’s position in 1975 to helping Ray Watson, Steve Ovett and a delivery man carry our first ever treadmill into the labs that Steve proceeded to run on as part of some consultancy that Ray was providing! The profile of environmental extremes was raised by Dame Kelly Holmes (then an aspiring athlete) visiting the labs over a few weeks leading up to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to carry our heat acclimation training.  Professor Jo Doust and his PhD student, David James (now Professor), carried out the heat acclimation sessions that helped her to 4th place in the 800 m (1 min 58.81s) and 11th (4 min 07.46s) in the 1500m finals. This early heat acclimation work clearly must have helped her win the double gold over 800m and 1500 m in the heat of the 2004 Athens Olympics! In 1994, 1995, 1996, David James was also at the British Olympic Association’s pre-games training camp in Tallahassee, Florida (Florida State University), working on preparation of athletes for what was one of the hottest and most humid games in history. We were also privileged to house Chris Boardman (MBE) in the early to mid 1990s, where Pete Keen (CBE and former Physiology Lecturer at the University of Brighton) was supporting Chris’ preparations for the cycling one hour record. During these preparations, Pete Keen was experimenting with alcohol sprays to facilitate evaporative heat loss.

In 1995 Professor Graham McFee and Paul McNaught-Davis wrote one of, if not the first, book chapter (Chpt.9) around ethics as it applies to environmental physiology: Informed Consent ? A case study from environmental physiology that featured in Alan Tomlinson and Scott Fleming (1995)’s Ethics, Sport and Leisure: Crises and Critiques. The chapter explored the challenges scientists face when trying to understand human responses to environmental extremes where the risks to participants are considerable. They used a 1986 BBC Documentary, “Bitter Cold” as the basis to investigate the issues and constraints that must be in place in order to proceed ethically when investigating environmental physiology. Whilst the documentary may not offer the same currency to our students as it once did, the principles of good and ethical practice in our environmental extremes lab remain because of explorations such as these.

Click on prose to expand and read

Our small environmental chamber enabled a few undergraduate students to investigate the effects of thermal stress on the human body within a 2nd year (HB227-Environmental Physiology and Sports Medicine) and 3rd year (HB327-Environmental Investigations) module and research-based dissertations. Dr Neil Maxwell joined the University of Brighton in the autumn of 1997 with a thermal physiology background from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, where he began the journey of expanding the environmental physiology teaching and research provision. In the same year as the seminal precooling work by Booth et al (1997, but before it was published), Dr Mark Hayes (then an undergraduate student) pioneered precooling for endurance performance in the heat for his dissertation. Even though his first participant (Neil Maxwell) shivered uncontrollably and fell off the cycle ergometer at exhaustion in the heat, the passion for environmental extremes was ignited. Paul Castle (a 2nd year BSc student, now Director of External Innovation for GSK and Professor at St Mary’s University) joined Mark in the summer of 1998 for an internship to test the validity and reliability of different measures of core temperature during rest and supramaximal exercise while under hot conditions. This led Paul to continue down this road, to become our first environmental physiology PhD student in 1999, supervised by Dr Neil Maxwell, Paul McNaught-Davis and Dr Nick Webborn (Director of Sussex Sports Medicine Centre, Sportswise which was and still is cited on campus).


Mark Hayes’ BSc Dissertation on precooling and endurance performance in the heat (left) and Paul Castle carrying out experimental work for his PhD (right)

Occasional clinical and consultancy-based projects that had an environmental extremes focus were also conducted in the early days. For example in 1998 Nick Webborn (through Sportswise) brought an interesting malignant hyperthermia case to the university that he and Neil Maxwell investigated. Commissioned research in 1999 by the shoe company Clarks resulted in the then PhD student, Derek Covill, who was supervised by Dr Martin Bailey, and research assistant Alison Holmes to investigate ‘experimental and numerical modelling of the temperature and moisture distributions in footwear’. There are still a few pairs of the test shoes kicking around!

New Labs and New Modules

It was not until 2001, when we came the full circle and returned to the Welkin Buildings to accommodate most for the human performance sport and exercise science laboratories. This move brought a larger, more sophisticated, purpose-built environmental chamber in 2001 (costing £54k) that could closely control ambient temperature (-20°C to +50°C) and relative humidity (15% to 95%). This led to further expansion in our capabilities for examining human responses to environmental extremes and was a catalyst for growth in teaching, research and consultancy activity.

Within the environmental physiology laboratory, a new water tank was also installed in 2001. In comparison to the previous water tank that was a large height above the floor making entry and exit difficult, Alan Allchorn made sure we reduced the operating height of the new tank to half way through the floor. Another safety feature, was a 100 mm drain and motorised valve to empty the tank in seconds should it be needed. The unfortunate consequence was that the boiler can partly flood if this happens!

In 2002, Dr Neil Maxwell was fortunate to secure a sabbatical down under at the University of Western Australia for 6 months, where he worked with Drs David Bishop and Brian Dawson (now Professors), examining hypohydration and intermittent sprint exercise in the heat. Some shocking hydration states were observed in the study (see below)! This research was the catalyst for improving some of the research activity allied to environmental extremes within Brighton, both directly from the outputs that emerged from this collaborative research with experts in the field, but also from future collaborations (Dr Rob Duffield and Dr Matt Spencer) that emerged directly and indirectly.

In 2003, on returning from his sabbatical Dr Neil Maxwell had the idea to change the emphasis of the first ‘Environmental Investigations’ module to an ‘Expedition Physiology’ module that aimed to encourage an understanding of and enthusiasm for applied human physiology in the context of climatic stress, but with a strong applicability to outdoor pursuits, survival in the wilderness and expeditions. Since 2004 we have led an annual student expedition to the Brecon Beacons. During this time, we have faced thunderstorms, torrential rain, snow whiteouts and if we are lucky, sunshine. However, we have had some fantastic expeditions over the years and a lot of fun. [NB. The student lying on the ground was a pretend casualty, where our students had to manage the scenario. We have not lost anyone yet!].

Of course the leaders need a bit of expedition first aid training too!

In addition to assessing Expedition Physiology students ‘out on the hill’, the module requires students to submit an expedition-research grant proposal to the University of Brighton’s fictitious Expedition Foundation. In the inaugural year of the revised module, Chris Howarth (BSc Sport and Exercise Science Student) proposed to investigate the effect of progressive heat acclimation (a concept we had been floating around the lab) on performance in the Jungle Marathon (Brazil). So inspired by what he had learnt, the year later in 2004 Chris ran the Jungle Marathon (200 km over 7 days in 35°C/80%RH). Chris was 14th out of 75 runners and the first European to finish. He attributed his success and the prevention of a heat illness to the 10 days of heat acclimation training in our labs and what he had learnt in the module.

Click on newspaper clipping to expand and read

During the heat acclimation training Chris undertook, we experimented with the idea of a progressive model where the heat stress was increased in the latter stages of the protocol to maintain the stimulus for adaptation. This formed the basis and future rationale to Mark Hayes’ PhD entitled, ‘The effect of progressive heat acclimation on games players performing intermittent-sprint exercise in the heat’ that he finished 10 years later.

New Staff and New Expertise

The growth and success of environmental extremes at the University of Brighton is certainly not down to one or two individuals and a collection of PhD students. There is no question, where we are today is because of some key additions to the team.

Dr Peter Watt (now Associate Professor)

Peter joined the University of Brighton in 2002 and with his appointment, brought a depth of knowledge around biochemistry that was seismic in how it improved our mechanistic approach to carrying out research. It has not just been the additional biochemical techniques that have added so much to our research and teaching, but also his understanding of integrated physiology. Many a time (often with a cup of tea and cake), PhD students (not to mention a few academic staff) have left a meeting with Peter, being blown away by his in-depth or left-field thought process that was instrumental in the success of a study.  Without question, everybody wants him on their pub quiz team and as our organiser of our annual Burns Supper, he knows his whisky too!

Dr Paul Castle

Paul Castle, Neil Maxwell, Richard Mackenzie and Peter Watt (left to right)

Paul came through our University of Brighton system, first as an undergraduate student, before joining the PhD programme. Once Paul completed his PhD, his skills and capabilities were quickly realised with the appointment to a lecturing position at the University. Paul’s growing expertise, enthusiasm, not to mention boyish good looks made him an immediate hit with the students, so much so he went on and married one of them! However, in the short few years while Paul was part of the team, he was instrumental in growing environmental extremes at the University of Brighton. His mastery of so many techniques around the lab from his PhD, led to many a demonstration to students, but also was a catalyst for many who have followed in his footsteps who were on the receiving end of his teaching and research. He joined our annual Brecon Beacons Expedition in the early days to much amusement by all who were there. He expanded his research, with Nick Webborn to examine heat reactions and adaptations amongst individuals with spinal cord injuries which led to him joining Team GB Disability Hot Weather Training Camps. His insight led to the collaboration with Dr Lee Taylor on Oli Gibson’s PhD that added an important and timely sophistication to our research. Paul’s innovative and business ambitions came to the surface that finally led him away from the Higher Education sector and over to the Corporate world; GalaxoSmithkline Consumer Healthcare, where he currently is Director of External Innovation. He now holds a Professorship at St Mary’s University alongside his GSK position, which is a testament to his immense talent and achievements over the years. However, he will always be welcome in the Environmental Extremes Lab, having been so important in its development.

Dr Emma Ross

Emma joined us as a senior lecturer in 2009 and while we only had a brief spell with her in our immediate team, in the time she was with us her dynamic and charismatic personality, not to mention her qualities as a teacher and researcher made a big impression on us. There is no question her work ethic and outputs influenced a number of staff to ‘raise their game’. Many of these activities had direct, but sometimes indirect influence on environmental extremes and its development at the University of Brighton. Whether in her own research, supervision of others, teaching students or engaging with industry, Emma improved what we were capable of achieving. Emma even joined our 2009 and 2010 Brecon Beacons expeditions, where she joining us in experiencing the inclement weather common to Wales. Her spirits always remained high and this infectious zest for life was a key trait the students ‘warmed’ to and missed when she left. While sad to lose her, it was of no surprise that the English institute of Sport recognised her talent and we are fortunate to continue working with Emma across a variety of environmental extremes-based projects.

Dr Alan Richardson

A gas mask rig Alan set up linked to hypoxic generators to simulate altitude before we had a hypoxic chamber.

Alan came through our undergraduate (BSc Hons Sport and Exercise Science – 1st class honours) programme before completing his PhD allied to altitude physiology and hypohydration, all from the University of Brighton. During his PhD, Alan spent four months as a research scientists on the Xtreme Everest Expedition, the largest ever human biology study ever performed at high altitude. The background to Alan joining the expedition started with his then PhD supervisor, Dr Neil Maxwell, who had been made aware by his sister that the expedition were looking for volunteers and additional research members.  As Neil had not long been married, he thought it might not go down too well if he jetted off to the Himalayas for 4 months! So he suggested that Alan make contact and enquire of the opportunity to join the team. As expected, Alan interviewed well and the rest as they say, is history with Alan having a truly memorable experience from March to June 2007, where he was involved in testing over 208 people trekking from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp. The study investigated human performance at extreme altitude with the aim of improving the care of critically ill patients by increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood. Speaking from Base Camp, Alan said “It’s hugely rewarding being involved in the world’s biggest medical expedition. We’ve produced an unprecedented amount of accurate data on the effects of hypoxia in humans, which will hopefully be of use in critical care. It is also good for my career to be involved in producing so many research articles.”

As an undergraduate student, Alan in a tutorial with Dr Neil Maxwell was asked what he wanted to do in his career and replied “I want your job”! Therefore, it is of no surprise that in 2009, with all the skills and expertise Alan had to offer, he joined our lecturing team that year and soon moved up the ranks from lecturer to senior lecturer to principal lecturer, reflecting his drive and desire to improve the student experience and make a meaningful contribution across our academic, research and enterprise provision. Since those early days as a PhD student, Alan has made such a significant impact upon the sport and exercise science provision as a whole here at the University of Brighton, but also specifically environmental extremes and the work we do in our lab. He has expanded our research into occupational settings through his Fire Instructor work that is being recognised at a national and international level, but also taken over the leadership of our very popular 3rd year expedition physiology module, having run many successful expeditions to the Brecon Beacons. His energy and amazing efficiency with any task he takes on, has directly and indirectly led to so many achievements and indicators of success since he joined us. Arguably the most impactful, was his leadership of the Peru 2013 – Learning Through Adventure – Expedition where 26 students and 6 staff embarked upon a very ambitious volunteer-research-challenge project (see below for details). Alan is no stranger to the limelight, with more of the good, few of the bad and the odd ugly encounter with the media! There are far too many examples to recount that evidence the sizeable contribution Alan has made to where we are today in the Environmental Extremes Lab. However, suffice to say, he is a key player in the team.

Dr Mark Hayes

Mark has had a long history with environmental extremes as it has developed at the University of Brighton, even though he was not always employed with us. Mark graduated in 1998 with a first class BSc (Hons) degree in Sports Science from the University of Brighton.  From there, after a brief spell working at the David Lloyd Club, he moved into a lecturing position within further education (FE), teaching at Sussex Downs College (formerly Eastbourne College of Arts and Technology) for eleven years. Throughout this time, he maintained involvement in environmental extremes at the university, predominantly by contributing to university-based expeditions as a visiting lecturer, but also in a research capacity. In 2007, he returned to the University of Brighton to commence a PhD research degree allied to progressive heat acclimation and intermittent sprint exercise in the heat where he ‘got the t-shirt’ for hours in the heat chamber testing! Completing the PhD in 2014 was the catalyst for Mark to return to higher education, but with it came a huge wealth of experience from FE in how to teach and help students of different abilities learn. This skill and experience has been one of the ways in which Mark has made such a valuable contribution to the development and success of the environmental extremes lab, not to mention the whole sport and exercise science provision. Mark gives such a rich learning experience to the students, whether in lectures, labs or his tutorials, dedicating hours to ensure it is value-added. Like when your teeth do not hurt having been to the dentist, students leave his office knowing what they need to do now. It is of no surprise that Mark’s colleagues have lost count on the number of ‘Best Lecturer’ awards he has received, even if Mark is too humble to acknowledge them! His cool, calm and collected demeanour has made Mark such a critical member of any team, especially during our countless expeditions. Although even Mark has been spooked in the Brecon Beacons when he came rather too close with a ‘Big Cat’!

In research and consultancy, Mark has also made valuable contributions to how the environmental extremes lab has developed.  He now supervises a good number of our aspiring PhD students, who have come to expect a level of detail (some might say influenced by Professor Ed Winter himself) in his feedback on manuscripts which is second to none. While unassuming in nature, the rigour he brings to his own research is a great model for others to follow and everybody wants Mark on their team. He is not one to jump in front of the camera and probably will be seen walking swiftly in the other direction, but in front of clients and athletes he makes them relax and so he has made a a great contribution to all of the extreme challenges he has supported over the many years he has been associated with environmental extremes at the University of Brighton.

New Techniques & Skills

Over the years as the environmental extremes lab has evolved we have integrated new techniques into our teaching and research. Some have been hard to sell to the students so the staff have had to try them first…not least the measurement of esophageal temperature! [NB. Fortunately, the videos of our attempts at esophageal temperature in the lab are too large to upload on this site]. Others have landed well, with a lot of students willing to have a go. With so many students experiencing our environmental physiology modules, rectal thermometry and other such invasive techniques are no longer an urban myth or part of student folklore. Consequently, recruiting participants for studies has not been too difficult. Nick Webborn and Peter Watt have enabled muscle biopsies to be added to our suite of techniques should they be needed, along with an assortment of biochemical markers and clinical expertise, helped more recently by our developing relationship with the School of Pharmacy and Biological Sciences. For our measurement of muscle temperature, we have benefitted from Nick Webborn and his ultrasound scanner, so we know what depth and angle to insert the probe so as to be safe and accurate.


Arrival of our Hypoxic Chamber

In 2009, a purpose-built hypoxic chamber costing £85k joined our existing facilities that enabled us to simulate altitudes equivalent to 5000 m and examine susceptibility to injuries, such as acute mountain sickness, provide support to those embarking upon extreme challenges to altitude, as well as explore the interaction between hypoxia and health.

The timely addition of a hypoxic chamber, alongside the research Richard Mackenzie started in his MSc Research Project investigating acute normobaric hypoxia and erythropoietin, put us into the market to be competitive for securing a part-funded EIS studentship linked to altitude and endurance performance. One of our home-grown (BSc and MSc) students, Gareth Turner secured the much coveted joint funded PhD studentship that led to him securing a part-time altitude physiologist for British Athletics (and pacing Mo Farah no less!) and post PhD being appointed as a full-time, permanent physiologist to the English Institute of Sport to support British Rowing. During his time as a student he brought a new dimension to the Environmental Extremes Lab of conducting research at the sharp end of elite sport with all the challenges and complexities of working with sporting governing bodies.  Gareth also enabled a new level of sophistication to our research through the Carbon-monoxide rebreathing technique to determine Haemoglobin mass. As an aside, Gareth still holds the record for the quickest rejection of a manuscript submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal…the time it took him to make a quick visit to the bathroom! One of his supervisors, Dr Alan Richardson, had received the rejection email before even receiving the confirmation email that Gareth had submitted the manuscript for publication. In Gareth’s defence, the study has since been published in reputable journal and has been cited well!


Our Technical Instructors Who Have Supported and Driven our Research

The growth of environmental extremes has benefitted from a good number of teaching assistants (now known as technical instructors) supporting our work. In the early days we had Alison Hammond (nee Homes), Paul Castle, Richard Mackenzie, Chris Wragg, Alan Richardson and Louisa Beale setting the standards, before they moved into lecturing positions or onto pastures new. More recently, a new and successful model has been in place that has been instrumental in the growth of environmental extremes at the University of Brighton.  The model involves 0.5 full time equivalent technical instructor positions while the individuals study for a part-time PhD. The success of this system was also down to the recruitment of some excellent people joining our team with Oli Gibson, Rosie Twomey, Jess Mee and Ben Duncan (whose respective PhDs were each environmental extremes focussed) setting the bar very high for others to follow. In addition to the teaching assistant element across undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes and a wide variety of sub-disciplines of sport and exercise science, the role also included a significant research assistant responsibility. Oli and Rosie no doubt have deep-rooted memories of the health benefits of horse-riding study the British Horse Society commissioned. No less challenging was the ‘hot pants’ study that Ben and Jess supported Dr Gary Brickley on behalf of a new industrial partner! A testament to the success of the system and the quality of the first crop of technical instructors can be seen by the positions in higher education they now hold in the UK and internationally.

Now, we have Emily Watkins, Rebecca Relf , Lisa Schafer and Rosie Lewis with three of the four having an environmental extremes-focussed PhD. During our annual, busy dissertation testing time other environmental extremes PhD students (Carl James and Ash Willmott) have also stepped in. They have all maintained the high standards set from their predecessors which has played an important part in the student experience, the rigour in our research and their subsequent employability.

Research Conference Presentation/Poster Awards

2017 – Emily Watkins – International Congress on Environmental Ergonomics (ICEE, Kobe) Best Poster Presentation – ‘Working practices and health fire personnel: A UK survey’

2016 – Ash Willmott – International Conference on the Physiology and Pharmacology of Temperature Regulation (Slovenia) Postgraduate Student Award – ‘The physiological and perceptual responses of restrictive heat loss attire in hot and temperate conditions’

2016 – Jess Mee – International Conference on the Physiology and Pharmacology of Temperature Regulation (Slovenia) Postgraduate Student Award – ‘The running heat tolerance test is a suitable protocol for between-group comparisons of heat tolerance in females’

2016 – Rebecca Relf – BASES Student Postgraduate Applied Research Presentation Award (Bangor) – ‘Acute sleep deprivation increases perceptual indicators of heat-related illness without physiological consequences in females’

2015 – Jess Mee – International Congress on Environmental Ergonomics (ICEE, Portsmouth) – ‘Restricted sweat evaporation preceding short term heat acclimation accelerates adaption in females’ (supported by Student Placement Award, £425)

2014 – Mark Hayes – Training and Competing in the Heat Conference (Aspetar) –  The effect of progressive heat acclimation on fatigue following intermittent-sprint exercise in the heat (supported by £1500 Travel and Accommodation Grant)

2014 – Oli Gibson – Training and Competing in the Heat Conference (Aspetar) –  Isothermic heat acclimation requires lower exercise durations to elicit superior adaptation compared to a fixed intensity protocol (supported by £1500 Travel and Accommodation Grant)

2014 – Jess Mee – Training and Competing in the Heat Conference (Aspetar) –  Sex difference in adaptation to short and long term isothermic heat acclimation (supported by £1500 Travel and Accommodation Grant)

2011 – Richard Mackenzie – Endocrine Society Prize (Boston) – ‘The Effect of Work Intensity and Hypoxia on Glucose and Insulin Sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetics’

Leading and Joining Expeditions Have Added Another String To Our Bow

Conducting research in the laboratory is hard, but a new dimension is introduced when taking the lab outside into the ‘field’.  Over the years, we have embarked upon a variety of expeditions to expand our appreciation and understanding of environmental extremes. Some of these have been purely self-indulgent with no tangible outputs beyond the fatigue we developed [e.g. expeditions to the Himalayan Annupurna Sanctuary, French Alps, Romanian Cicerone Mountains, Tanzanian Mount Meru and ascend Kilimanjaro].


Others, have had a more research focus. The Xtreme Everest Expedition that Alan joined in 2007 was certainly a catalyst to the Environmental Extremes Lab being confident we could embark upon a research-based expedition of our own. Peru 2013 – Learning Through Adventure was a project developed by University of Brighton’s Sport and Exercise Science staff to promote learning and conduct research in exercise and environmental physiology through field-based work. Twenty-nine undergraduate students and staff undertook research projects at the Welkin Human Performance Laboratories in Eastbourne before travelling to Cuzco, Peru. In Peru, the students completed 18 days of physiological and perceptual tests to examine acclimatisation and adaptation to altitude. They also worked to renovate Huacarpay Primary School, and completed a 4 day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.

Where are we now?

Currently, in the academic domain, we support the delivery of three, choice environmental physiology modules, two undergraduate modules (HB527-Environmental Physiology and HB627 – Expedition Physiology) and one postgraduate module (HB710-Applied Environmental Physiology), with an average of 80 students per year and over 20 undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations annually allied to environmental extremes. We have a broad and very active research student programme. Our associated research has led to multiple PhD completions, over 60 publications in peer-reviewed journals and is helping a wide variety of people across health, occupational and sporting domains. We are now able to offer a far more sophisticated and research-informed support service to a greater range of clients allied to environmental extremes (i.e. industrial partners, sports governing bodies, teams, individuals embarking upon extreme challenges). This in turn, supports the curriculum, providing opportunities for our students to enjoy exciting and vocationally-relevant work experience to enhance their employability. Some of our MSc and PhD students have been able to develop leadership skills while project managing a group of undergraduate students as they prepared clients for the enormity of challenges in extreme conditions.

Over the years our students have supported preparations for the Marathon Des Sables, climbing Kilimanjaro, ascents in the Himalayas (Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Sanctuary Trek and Cho Oyo) and in the cold, expeditions to Greenland, the Arctic and even a blind balloonist, Mike Scholes, who was attempting the North Pole Marathon!

Click on newspaper clipping to expand and read

Environmental extremes has come a long way since its inception back in 1968. During this time a lot has changed, but a lot has been accomplished.  We have to thank Paul Mcnaught-Davis for his initiative to start a BSc (Hons) Sport Science degree that was the catalyst for environmental extremes’ existence at the University of Brighton. The support he received from Alan Allchorn and Dave Thomas and the mentorship from Dr Ray Watson was instrumental in what environmental extremes looks like today. Professor Jo Doust added to the environmental extremes presence with his vast expertise and his subsequent support to Dr Neil Maxwell over many years that have followed. Thanks are owed for the passion, skills and commitment of many other staff and research students, who each have added their mark on what environmental extremes exists as today. You will see from our mission and vision that we are ambitious in what we aim to achieve and believe we make a significant contribution that changes people lives on an international scale. However, we remember our roots and are keen to help our more local communities as well, with education of our students being at the heart of what we do. In making a difference, we are keen to work with a wide variety of partners and welcome this opportunity in the future.