Research team helping to save lives

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Research team helping to save lives

Published on December 14 2009

Graduate students Greg McGarr, Nikki Zouros, Matt Smith and Geoff Hartley are like a second family, says Brock researcher Stephen Cheung.

“I want really good students who are also really good people,” says Cheung, associate professor, Physical Education and Kinesiology, and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics. “I’m very selective in the students I take on as members of our research team. They are not just academically able but the students here are individuals who buy into the team approach and they work well together. My goal is for students to learn in the lab, to know the process of science and to be exposed to the whole field of environmental physiology.”

The students are as committed as Cheung to the team philosophy – the common theme for all of them is that the work they are doing will help to save lives.

Cheung is well known for his research that focuses on the ability of humans to function in extreme environments. One of the important outcomes of this work will be the development of protective clothing and survival gear.

His lab is the only one of its kind in North America and one of only three in the world to house a specialized chamber that controls temperature, humidity and oxygen levels in varying degrees.

“Our research in the lab is seamless from fundamental science to applied science,” says Cheung. “I love that mix – our work is so highly relevant. We can take it in so many directions.”

In partnership with Cheung, the students are pursuing a variety of projects that involve studying human physiology and performance under extreme conditions – from the activities of workers and professionals to elite and recreational athletes.

Greg McGarr is a PhD candidate, Applied Health Sciences. He is working with Cheung on a large multidisciplinary project involving other universities, government agencies and private and public industry. The project focuses on Arctic survival involving massive rescue situations.
“We are looking at the physiology of shivering and how shivering can be sustained for a long period of time. Shivering is vital to survival as it generates heat. Most studies to date only concentrate on the first few hours of shivering in an extreme situation. A massive rescue may take several days. We want to know more, from a physiological standpoint, on shivering over longer periods of time.”

Nikki Zouros is an MSc candidate, Applied Health Sciences. She is researching the cognitive aspect of performance in extreme environments.
“I’m looking at the ability of brain processes to function under environmental stresses such as hot or cold. Think about a firefighter who must make decisions – life and death decisions – while dealing with extreme heat.
“This lab functions very well as a family. We support each other. I’m able to work with different people and I really learn from them.
“Research is my passion. I’m able to apply it to real life. That’s a special opportunity that I don’t think you’d get everywhere.”

Matt Smith is an MSc candidate, Applied Health Sciences. He is studying the effects of different temperatures during exercise of people with Type 1 diabetes.
“Specifically, I look at a range of temperatures 35 degrees, 20 degrees and 5 degrees Celcius and what effect these temperatures have on blood glucose and blood cytokines. Maintaining blood glucose levels is important for Type 1 diabetics to lead healthy and active lifestyles.
“I’m a Type 1 diabetic of 22 years -- 10 per cent of the diabetic population suffers from Type 1 diabetes. We know that exercise is very beneficial in controlling diabetes in addition to promoting better health in general. The research that I’m doing has never been done before. It’s important for Type 1 diabetics to know and understand what will happen when they exercise in all temperatures.”

Geoff Hartley is an MSc candidate, Applied Health Sciences. His research focuses on cyclists and how they pace themselves.
“I’m interested in how a cyclist’s perception of effort corresponds to power output. I want to see if changes in power output correspond to physiological variables such as body temperature. I’m also looking at metabolic data such as skin blood flow and blood lactate values.
“The research is basic in nature in terms of the theory of how cyclists regulate exercise intensity based on perception. If you take away tools such as heart monitors or speedometers that help cyclists gauge their effort, can they adequately pace themselves on their own feeling of exertion?”

Read other stories about graduate students -- partners in research.

Stephen Cheung and his student research team

Stephen Cheung and his student research team