Menu

Heather Massey Respects Water

The University of Portsmouth sports scientist and open-water swimmer investigates the human body’s response to extreme conditions.

Aug 1, 2018
Shawna Williams

ABOVE: GEOFF LONG

Heather Massey’s way of combining work and play wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a good time. The seasoned open-water swimmer sometimes swallows wireless thermometer capsules to monitor how low her temperature drops during swims, and she keeps detailed notes on how she feels during each swim. “I’ve always been fascinated by what happens to your body when you do things to it, when you go and exercise or when you go to an extreme environment,” the University of Portsmouth physiologist says.

Both Massey’s interest in science and her love of sports go way back; it was a high school biology teacher who suggested she combine the two by pursuing sports physiology. Massey went on to study physical education, sports science, and exercise physiology at the University of Loughborough in her native UK, and after earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, took a job in the country’s Ministry of Defense, where she taught physical training instructors and helped with various research projects.

Heather Massey heads out for an open water swim.
Geoff Long

Through that position, Massey met Mike Tipton, a physiology researcher at the University of Portsmouth, and became interested in his work on cold water immersion and drowning prevention. She joined his lab as a graduate student and began investigating whether habituating one’s body to one extreme condition—immersion in cold water—would help it cope with another—low oxygen levels. Massey and Tipton found that the nervous systems of individuals whose cold shock response wore off more quickly over time were better equipped to handle the initial challenges of hypoxia.1

“Her PhD was groundbreaking in that it was amongst the first in whole-body human physiology to look at cross-adaptation,” Tipton says. Massey stayed in Tipton’s lab for a postdoc, investigating the performance of various clothing types in warm and cool conditions, and of life jackets,2 including when those wearing them jumped into water from a height of 4 meters or were repeatedly buffeted by waves.3 This work feeds into the field of integrated physiology. “We’re looking at the whole person, the whole physiology, and applying it to very real settings that many people find themselves in” to help prevent deaths and injuries, Massey says.

Massey discusses her research with a colleague.
Sam Tipton

That practical bent has continued since she joined the Portsmouth faculty in 2010. In one project, she and colleagues had volunteers fall, clothed, into water and expend the bare minimum of effort needed to float. “What we found is that people are able to float more easily than they think, particularly when they’re wearing more clothes,” which trap air and buoy them, Massey says. The results informed a campaign by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to reduce drownings, in part by urging people to “float first” if they accidentally fall into water, and wait until the initial shock and gasping reflex have passed before attempting to swim or get out.

Massey is “very keen, enthusiastic, very knowledgeable,” says Clare Eglin, another Portsmouth physiology researcher who’s known Massey since she began her PhD studies. She is “hungry for the answer,” Eglin says.  

References

  1. H.C. Lunt et al., “‘Cross-adaptation’: Habituation to short repeated cold-water immersions affects the response to acute hypoxia in humans,” J Physiol-London, 588:3605–13, 2010. (Cited 32 times)
  2. M. Barwood et al., “Inherent work suit buoyancy distribution: Effects on lifejacket self-righting performance,” Aviat Space Envir Md 85: 960–964, 2014. (Cited 1 time)
  3. H. Lunt et al., “Wearing a crotch strap on a correctly fitted lifejacket improves lifejacket performance,” Ergonomics, 57:1256–64, 2014. (Cited 4 times)

February 2019

Big Storms Brewing

Can forests weather more major hurricanes?

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb), a global leader of life science research and clinical diagnostic products, today announced that its QXDx AutoDG ddPCR System, which uses Bio-Rad’s Droplet Digital PCR technology, and the QXDx BCR-ABL %IS Kit are the industry’s first digital PCR products to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. Used together, Bio-Rad’s system and kit can precisely and reproducibly monitor molecular response to treatment in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb) today showcases new automation features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer during the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening 2019 International Conference and Exhibition (SLAS) in Washington, D.C., February 2–6. These capabilities enable the ZE5 to be used for high-throughput flow cytometry in biomarker discovery and phenotypic screening.
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Researchers to benefit from an innovative software-connected pipetting system, bringing improved reproducibility and traceability of experiments to life-science laboratories.
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) will showcase advanced 3D cell culture technologies and workflow solutions for spheroids, organoids, tissue models, and applications including ADME/toxicology at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) conference, Feb. 2-6 in Washington, D.C.