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Personal profile

Research interests

Dr Neil Maxwell is a Reader of Environmental Physiology within the School of Sport and Service Management at the University of Brighton. Through his research and innovation, Neil aims to inspire health, occupational and sporting communities to engage in safe and effective exercise in environmental extremes and reduce the incidence of illness.

He leads the Environmental Extremes Laboratory, where his research focus is towards heat reactions during exercise and evaluating practical heat alleviation methods (e.g. heat acclimation, pre and per cooling and hydration manoevres) across sport, health and clinical  populations. 

Although his research began using sports performance as the research paradigm to understand the body’s response to the environment and still continues to research in this field, he has extended to global challenges of heat reactions from exercise-heat stress in health and clinical populations (for instance, individuals with Multiple Sclerosis, the elderly and in breast cancer survivors and those with Cystic Fibrosis). Bridging the health and performance domains has been the evaluation of protocols and measurement tools to determine the susceptibility to hyperthermia and heat-related illnesses (e.g. exertional heat stroke).

In the altitude domain, Dr Maxwell researches susceptibility to altitude and the use of practical screening measures to reduce incidence of incurring an altitude illness, while working closely with the charity, Para-Monte to raise awareness about altitude illnesses.

Across all the research activities Dr Maxwell is involved in allied to environmental extremes, he places a strong emphasis on translating his research to benefit policy, product development, practice and ultimately, people. Supporting students and giving them opportunities to develop their profile academically and themselves personally is central to Dr Maxwell's research philosophy.

Scholarly biography

Dr Maxwell joined the University and Chelsea School as a lecturer in sport and exercise science in 1997 and since this time has contributed to the teaching provision, research knowledge and enterprise activity. Before this, he completed a BA Sport in the Community Degree at Jordanhill College, Glasgow in 1992, then moved into an MSc in Sport Science at Loughborough University the same year. Under the supervision of Dr (now Professor) Mary Nevill, Neil began his interest into exercise and heat stress research - 'Responses to continuous and maximal intermittent exercise during climatic stress'. In 1993, Neil returned to the Jordanhill Campus of the University of Stratchclyde on a PhD studentship with a final thesis title of 'sprint running and the effects of different conditions of stress on intermittent sprint running performance' supervised by Dr (now Professor) Myra Nimmo. Neil briefly held a three-month position as a project officer at the Scottish Institute of Sports Medicine and Sports Science before joining the University of Brighton.

Dr Maxwell is research active and has presented and published extensively in the international, scientific community with over 80 articles in peer-reviewed journals allied to thermal and hypoxic stress and how the body tolerates each, particularly during exercise. His research has been supported by a range of external funding streams across the public, private and charitable sectors. Neil’s outputs contributed to the university’s REF2014 submission within the Unit of Assessment (UoA) C26, that was nationally ranked 14th out of 51 submissions. Neil is an external reviewer for leading international journals in the field, book proposals and external grant applications, and has held internal and external examiner and validator roles and currently sits on the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences COVID-19 Special Interest Group Steering Committee.

Dr Maxwell is an approved higher degrees supervisor with 14 PhD and 2 MPhil completions and a bank of existing postgraduate research students working in fields of heat reactions across health and clinical-based populations that evaluate applied heat alleviation methods. He has supervised 37 MSc student research projects, examined nine PhDs, one MPhil and 3 MSc-by-research degrees and has acted as a Chair to seven PhD vivas.

During his time at the University of Brighton, Dr Maxwell has held multiple leadership positions [Admisions Tutor, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science Course Leader, Sport and Exercise Science Programme Leader, Sport and Exercise Science Area Leader, Enterprise and Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit Lead, Research Centre Leader, Assistant Head of School (Research), Environmental Extremes Lab Leader]. Currently, he is course leader to the MSc Applied Exercise Physiology and MSc Applied Sport Physiology degrees.

He has completed the university's Research Leadership Programme and mentored multiple staff. He is a member of the School's Tier 1 Ethics Committee, but has advised other universities on ethics procedures allied to environmental extremes. He was also a member of REF2014 C26 Development Group and a current member on the REF2021 C24 Development Group. Further, he sat on the steering group for the merger of two schools that resulted in the School of Sport and Service Management.

Neil was the recipient of the University of Brighton's Teaching Excellence Award in 2004 and the university's nominee for the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme in the same year. Then in 2017, he was again the university's nominee to the Timnes Higher Education Research Supervisor of the Year Award.

Supervisory Interests

Dr Neil Maxwell has a strong history of supporting PhD students in the Environmental Extremes Lab and he sees the research students as integral to the lab's vision and success moving forward. 

His priority is for new PhD students to align to the existing research themes, but he is open to new ideas and lines of research enquiry. For information from the Doctoral College on the PhD programme, details of our graduates and supervisors and the application process itself, please follow the link here.

Within the Environmental Extremes Lab, Neil helps to ensure the research students have the opportunity to:

  • work within dynamic and supportive research teams, often that includes collaboration with external partners
  • present and participate in seminars (NB. One of our more experienced PhD students leads the seminar programme)
  • receive funding to cover the cost of presenting at one national and one international conference during their PhD registration
  • contribute to the environmental extremes taught modules within the undergraduate and postgraduate degrees
  • take part in meetings, activities and events that link to the public, communities and, or industry
  • join research funding bid teams to develop skills on sourcing external grants
  • be part of a vibrant research student community that is very supportive, works hard, but has fun as well!

Look at the career map that shows our PhD students' career destinations, many of whom Neil supervised.

Approach to teaching

Dr Maxwell's philosophy for learning and teaching stems from his own experiences as a learner during his early years at Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh, through to his time at Jordanhill College and when studying for an MSc degree at Loughborough University; he was fortunate to have some inspirational teachers and lecturers. They taught with so much enthusiasm and passion, were able to instil confidence and yet those who made an impression upon him appeared to understand the distinctiveness that each student brought to the class. He believes that his experience in education has engendered an empathy when working with the different needs of students and he is prepared to try unorthodox teaching methods in the context of sport and exercise science to stimulate their interest and make learning enjoyable. Dr Maxwell accepts that some of his ideas may not always work, but creating the ambience of, and using the music from, ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ to encourage learning within exercise physiology, and singing to the students to help them learn the processes of energy metabolism, have fortunately been well-received! The Operation Everest Exhibition he organised to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summiting Everest really captured the students’ imagination. Throughout the labs he recreated the different camps on Everest, with the purpose-built environmental chamber simulating conditions while students were climbing in a relay system the equivalent height from base camp (17,600 feet) to the summit (29,035 feet) on a StairMaster stepping machine while carrying a rucksack and experiencing conditions of -20°C. Similarly, the Peru 2013 ExpeditionLearning Through Adventure’ that he co-led, where 24 BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science students were taken to perform outreach work, conduct research and trek to Machu Picchu provided a unique learning experience for everyone.

His learning and teaching delivery uses lead lectures, seminars, workshops, laboratory practicals, tutorials and field-based activities to support student learning and has benefited from him completing the University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. He is very hands-on and likes to get into the labs when he can. Content is research-informed and where possible, he brings research carried out in the labs into the curriculum as he believes it gives a different currency to the students’ experience. Environmental extremes and the case studies that exist across athletic, clinical and occupational populations really lend themselves to a problem-based learning approach and can help students identify with global challenges as they relate to the environment.

Dr Maxwell has tried to develop the identity of environmental extremes within the sport and exercise science degree courses over 20+ years at the University of Brighton, the university and increasingly, at a national/international level. Within the environmental extremes curriculum he considers all aspects of the environment (for instance, heat stress, cold stress, altitude exposure, dive response, microgravity and sleep deprivation) and their impact on the body’s ability to function. This sub-discipline of sport and exercise science has many practical implications in terms of preparing for exercise in such conditions and being able to prevent, and if need be treat, environmental-based injuries such as, exertional heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hypothermia, frostbite, altitude sickness and the bends. Since arriving at the University of Brighton, Neil has developed a Level 5 Environmental Physiology, Level 6 Expedition Physiology (including an annual expedition to the Brecon Beacons) and Level 7 (MSc) Applied Environmental Physiology module, which collectively supports approximately 100 students per year. The extensive nature of this sub-discipline within the curricula, which is supported by an impressive suite of facilities and the Environmental Extremes Lab has been pivotal in driving the research activity forward in the School, with many students continuing to study for research degrees with environmental extremes at the heart of their research.

Neil has received three Centre of Learning and Teaching Felowhsips from the University:

Centre for Learning and Teaching Fellowship 2012 - Mobile technology in field-based research as an aid to teaching and learning for Higher Education students (in association with Mark Hayes and Alan Richardson)

Centre for Learning and Teaching Fellowship 2010 – Using a multidimensional educational intervention to develop motivation and engagement in first year students of a sport and exercise science degree (in association with Dr Monica Dorobantu)

Centre for Learning and Teaching Fellowship 2008 – Using an Outdoor Activity Day to Improve the Student Experience and Improve Retention during the First Year at University (in association with Dr Nick Smeeton)

Knowledge exchange

Dr Maxwell's interests also include trying to build a far stronger relationship between enterprise and research activity, in terms of commercialisation of research findings but also ensuring that enterprise activities evidence the reach of his research.  With this in mind, advocacy to governing bodies and organisations on preparing for exercise in extreme environments and working with industrial partners who seek product testing facilities allied to this research theme is a key priority for Dr Maxwell. Dissemination of research beyond the scientific community has also been an important aim for Neil, where he has used local and national forums (e.g. Brighton Science Festivals, STEM week and Big Bang Science Fairs) to raise awareness around heat, cold, altitude and their respective illnesses. He has also used and led the Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit to translate his research to a variety of users.

Dr Maxwell's research on precooling as an acute strategy to optimise performance in hot environments was subsequently used by the USA Olympic Committee, featuring in their preparation manual to guide strategy for athletes competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and was recognised by the Brazilian Olympic Committee ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. In 2015, his research into applied precooling strategies was also recognised by the New York Times, Men’s Health and Runner’s World. He continues to provide support to athletes and individuals embarking upon challenges in extreme environments.  Dr Maxwell has translated his research to advise the English  Institute of Sport ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games through writing a resource pack and presenting on a range of heat-related topics that have formed the basis for a heat strategy ahead of the Games. This also included Neil organising for eighteen of his BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science Dissertation Students to carry out research and present it at an English Institute of Sport pre Tokyo 2020 event. He has been invited to present data around heatwaves and the elderly by Public Health England's Heatwave Committee and joined a Breast Cancer Symptom Management House of Lords Government Select Committee to discuss heat reactions amongst breast cancer survivors.

As an applied environmental physiologist, Neil provides a range of consultancy services that includes product testing (e.g. CAERvest and KUDUSmart), advice to charities (e.g. Para-Monte) and supporting individual athletes and teams in their preparation for events that range from the Polar Challenge, Jungle Marathon and  Marathons des Sables to expeditions, such as climbing Kilimanjaro and trekking along the Inca Trail to Machhu Picchu. As a former middle distance runner this led Neil to coaching and being a physiologist to athletes from district to international level. His own hillwalking experience in the Scottish and Welsh Mountains, expeditions to the Annapurna region of the Himalayas, French Alps, Romanian Cicerone Mountains and successful ascents of Mount Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu, Peru, have also helped bring a currency to the support he offers where clients benefit from his real life skills in the field as well.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Strathclyde

Oct 1993Nov 1997

Award Date: 4 Nov 1997

Master, Loughborough University

30 Sep 199224 Sep 1993

Award Date: 24 Sep 1993

Bachelor, Jordanhill College of Education

18 Sep 198912 Jun 1992

Award Date: 12 Jun 1992

Keywords

  • Q Science (General)
  • Environmental Physiology
  • Heat Stress
  • Heat Acclimation
  • Pre Cooling
  • Exertional Heat Stroke
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Heat reactions
  • Altitude Awareness
  • Altitude Illness

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