November 02nd 2023

Research Exchange with Sheffield Hallam University

2 months at Sheffield Hallam: Linking Health and Performance in Sports

Simon Winkler, Research Assistant in the Department of Medical & Health Technologies had the great opportunity to participate in a "Research Exchange" between MCI and Sheffield Hallam University. In the following blog post, he talks about his time in Sheffield, the project he worked on, and all the great things he experienced in his time off.

How it came about?

Before the 3rd of March 2023 I was not aware of the Sports Engineering Research Group (SERG) at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). As a rather new member of the Department of Medical & Health Technologies at the Management Center Innsbruck (MCI) with a background focusing on medical technology, I simply did not have the chance to get to know them. On that day, the Technology and Life Science Forum on Transfer of Technology in Sports happened at the MCI. One of the main 
speakers invited was Nick Hamilton from SERG. Not only his podium talk but also a chat over coffee sparked my interest in seeing the place for myself and the advantages of continuing the cooperation between our scientific departments. How exactly was not clear at that point. However, in the course of the following months, a funding program by the MCI started which aims to allow researchers of their own to gain insight into other research groups. It was almost too easy to find projects that I could work on in Sheffield! Long story short, I started my 2 months stay at the SERG on the 4th of September.


My Stay at Sheffield:

Sheffield is maybe not the first city that comes into your mind if you think about visiting the United Kingdom. London? Edinburgh? Maybe Oxford or Cambridge if you are more of an academic? However, if you are into outdoor sports, especially climbing, you probably heard about it before. A characteristic that it definitely shares with Innsbruck. Nevertheless, I will get back to that later. Business (pleasure) before (leisure) pleasure.

Before I introduce the project that we wanted to work on during my stay, I should introduce Ben Heller. He is an associate professor at SHU working in the field of motivation of exercise in virtual worlds, which already hints at the area that the project will be in. SERG is situated at the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) and so is Ben’s electronics workbench which will be my professional home for the first few weeks of my stay. Now comes the bummer, I cannot give you all the details of the research project. Buuuuh! Why? As it is part of a bigger ongoing project tied to a funding application and company, I am obliged to non-disclosure. Nevertheless, if the project proceeds as planned, you can hopefully read it all packaged in a publication. To at least tease you a little bit, I will give you some basic information on it. At MCI, Yeongmi Kim and I had an idea for a new concept of a wearable device that tracks hand movements and map them into virtual reality (VR). A prototype was built and brought to the AWRC. One of the main goals was to get insight into the tracking accuracy of our system. Thankfully, tracking movements is one of the great fortes of the SERG. So after an initial refinement and programming phase at the beginning, Francesca D’Andrea and Ben supported me in measuring the output of my system while tracking my body's movements using one of their optical motion capture systems. As a cherry on top, I also could gather feedback and ideas for the next iteration of our prototype from Ben, other people on the SERG staff, but also the medical robotics group at Sheffield University led by Dana D. Damian.

Don’t worry, I did not forget about the (leisure) pleasure!

As someone who has been climbing for a few years now, Sheffield was no blind spot on the map for me. It is rich with climbing history and famous for its gritstone climbing of the Peak District in front of Sheffield’s doors. Luckily, the weather allowed me to enjoy climbing the peaks a few times during my stay, and it did not disappoint. Also, the offer of indoor bouldering is great and worth a mention for those not-too-few rainy days. A close second to my love for climbing is mountain biking. Nick Hamilton is deeply rooted in the mountain biking community in and around Sheffield. He was so kind to introduce me, which resulted in some great riding days along with a memorable weekend at the Greatest Little Downhill Race at Grenoside just outside Sheffield.

On the rare days when I was not out in the peaks, Sheffield proved to be a lovely place to live. My quest of finding the best coffee place in Sheffield was diminished by the fact that there are too many great places around (I thought Brits are all about Tea!?). The city has a very industrial flair with lots of nice little neighbourhoods. People are so friendly, polite and engaging it often startled me at the beginning.  



The same is definitely true for the people working at SERG and the AWRC. From day one, everyone was very welcoming and supportive. It was insightful how the mission of the AWRC is combined with the excellence of SERG. The first is focusing on bringing health to a broader partition of the population, the second to optimize performance in sports. I could have a glimpse into the research conducted and have to say I am surprised how well these two are linked together in their projects. It is astonishing to see how well they find problems with a real need for a solution by working towards these goals. It has shown me again that this should always be the focus of our work.

Thanks to everyone at SERG and others at the AWRC for a great stay!

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