UCL News


Going for Gold - UCL helps athletes in medal quest

7 November 2007

Elite athletes are being given the chance to fulfil their potential in international competition thanks to new technology being developed at UCL (University College London) with a grant from the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).

The £100,000 project will create a portable, cutting edge device which can be used during training to measure oxygen use in muscles, enabling coaches to optimise training schedules and hone race strategies.

Dr Clare Elwell of UCL's Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering says: "We are using a technique called Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) to measure the oxygen content of athletes' muscles. Basically, we shine a light on the muscle and analyse the colour of the blood within it - highly oxygenated arterial blood is bright red, while blood with depleted oxygen levels looks blue or purple.

"This is the same technology currently employed in intensive care units to investigate brain injury in premature babies - so we know it works. What we're trying to do now is miniaturise the technology and give athletes a lightweight, comfortable, non-invasive device capable of transmitting this information back to their coach."

The project is cross-disciplinary and researchers from UCL's Department of Computer Science are working on the wireless 'Bluetooth' technology which will send the information from the athlete's monitor to their coach's laptop in real time.

Meanwhile, experts at the University of Essex have been awarded an additional £30,000 to investigate how the information produced by the monitor can be used to maximum effect by coaches in their design of training schedules for elite triathletes.

Professor Chris Cooper, of the University of Essex's Department of Biological Sciences, says: "Exercise uses up oxygen. By looking at how much oxygen is in the muscle you can see whether delivery is keeping up with consumption.

"We're trying to help athletes train to the level which enhances their performance. This data could help us optimise the way athletes warm-up prior to an event, or it might help us to design custom 'pacing strategies', telling athletes when it's the right time, biologically-speaking, for them to speed up or conserve energy during a race."

The team aims to have a working prototype in trials by Spring 2008.

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in collaboration with UK Sport. It is one of a number of projects developing cutting-edge technologies to assist UK athletes in achieving gold at the 2012 Olympics.


Notes to editors:

For additional information please contact:

Dave Weston in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 7678, mobile: +44 (0) 7733 307 596, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: d.weston@ucl.ac.uk

Jenny Grinter in the Communications Office at the University of Essex on tel: +44 (0)1206 872400, e-mail comms@essex.ac.uk

About UCL:

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. In the government's most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 59 UCL departments achieved top ratings of 5* and 5, indicating research quality of international excellence.

UCL is in the top ten world universities in the 2007 THES-QS World University Rankings, and the fourth-ranked UK university in the 2007 league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UCL alumni include Marie Stopes, Jonathan Dimbleby, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay.

About the University of Essex:

The University of Essex, founded in 1964, is one of the UK's leading academic institutions. It was ranked 10th in the Times Higher Education Supplement's research league tables following the last national research quality assessment, and 7th in the UK for teaching quality by the Sunday Times.

More than a quarter of Essex's 8,000 students are postgraduates, and almost 3,000 are international students, drawn from more than 125 different countries. Essex alumni include President of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Oscar Arias; architect Daniel Libeskind who won the design competition for the World Trade Center site, and BBC World Diplomatic Editor Brian Hanrahan.

About the EPSRC:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £740 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: www.epsrc.ac.uk/