Emma Ross

Favourite Thing: I love to explore how the brain functions when the human body is pushed to its limits.



I went to Burgess Hill School for Girls to study my GCSE’s and A Levels – an all girls school might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but I loved it, and not having boys as a distraction certainly helped my grades! In 1997 I then went to Exeter University to do a degree in Sport and Exercise Science, then in 2000 went to Cardiff Metropolitan University to do a Masters degree in the same subject. I then went to Brunel University in West London to do a PhD in Neuromuscular Physiology, which I completed in 2005.


I have a BSc, MSc, PhD and also a PGCHE (a qualification for teaching in higher education)

Work History:

I worked at Brunel University as a lecturer from 2005-2009, and I have worked at The University of Brighton since 2009 as a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology. The exciting news is that I have just taken up the position as Head of Physiology at The English Institute of Sport, where I will be in charge of the physiological support of all the Olympic athletes in preparation for the Rio Games. I start there in August.

Current Job:

I am a lecturer in sport and exercise physiology. This involves teaching students who study sports science, and also doing research in this field.


The University of Brighton

Me and my work

I am an exercise physiologist, which means I study how the human body works when we do physical activity. I am particularly interested in how the human brain works when we have to perform in extreme environments such as high heat or high altitude.

I studied sport and exercise science at University and then went on to do a PhD (3 more years of studying at University!) in exercise neurophysiology – that looks at how the brain and the central nervous system works when we exercise.  In the lab I use a technique called magnetic brain stimulation to study how the brain sends signals to our muscles to make them contract so that we can move and do exercise.  When we get tired after doing a lot of physical activity, the brain isn’t so good at sending signals to our muscles because it too has become tired, and that’s why moving around feels a bit harder when we are worn out!

In my free time, as well as being a mum to my gorgeous 18 month old son, I love to do endurance sports, and have run several marathons, and even completed an Ironman Triathlon.


My Typical Day

Drop my son at nursery, coffee, emails, in the lab zapping people’s brains, lunch, meet with students, work on writing up my experiments for publication, home for my son’s bath-time and bed!

The great thing about working as a scientist is that no two days are ever the same!  That’s what I love about my job.  There are always lots of different experiments going on in the laboratory, and I supervise the students who are conducting them.  These experiments all involve looking at how the brain and the nervous system cope with the human body being pushed towards its limits.   So some of my day is always spent in the lab working with my team.  Many of our experiments utilise a special room where we can accurately set the temperature to be very hold, or extremely cold, or have less oxygen, like we experience when we are at high altitude.

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There are less exciting bits to my day like answering emails and having meetings but I like the fact I am nearly always interacting with other people.  As a scientist working with humans (as opposed to animals or looking at cells in a petri dish) I spend most of my days interacting with other people, whether they are participants in our experiments, athletes who have come to test their fitness, or working with my students.  I also like the fact that I learn something new every day!  Sometimes I learn by reading other peoples work, sometimes my students will tell me something they have found out in their work that I didn’t know before.

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to run a workshop where students from local schools can come into the laboratory and find out how we measure the body’s responses to extreme environments, like very hot or very cold conditions.

I think the best way to learn is by seeing and doing, rather than just reading from text books – so I would like to put on a workshop where students from local schools can come into our laboratories here in Eastbourne, and learn what techniques we use to measure how the body responds to exercising in high heat or very cold conditions.  Students will see how we measure core and skin temperature, sweat rates, energy consumption, heart rate and other physiological measurements that can tell us how someone is reacting to being in an ‘extreme’ environment. We will also test out how wearing different types of clothing can affect how we perform in these conditions. Students will have the opportunity to take part in the experiments and experience what it is like being in our ‘environmental’ chamber, which can simulate very hot or very cold conditions.  We will video the experiments, and put them on our website so that other students can see what we did, what we measured, and what were the results from our experiments.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Energetic, smiley, curious.

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What's your favourite food?

I love all food! But my favourite is probably a good burger and chips (think Hard Rock Cafe style!)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

A couple of years ago we hired an enormous camper van and drove around Colorado, Utah and Nevada, ending up in Las Vegas – it was an amazing trip!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be a teacher.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I think I got in the most trouble at school for missing out on my studies because I was playing too much sport!

What was your favourite subject at school?

PE was my favourite, followed by Geography.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’ve been lucky enough to do research all over the world, including New Zealand and Nepal. The best experiment I have done is studying how the central nervous system responds to living at high altitude, where I got to live in The Himalayas in Nepal for a month!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Being at University and being allowed to investigate the questions in science that I thought were interesting, and that I could see were related to human performance really ignited my love of physiology.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A Brain Surgeon

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

(1) To be a great role model for my son (2) to always have a good work – life balance (3) to always choose to do things that make me, and others happy

Tell us a joke.

Why did the baker have brown hands?……….because he ‘kneaded’ a poo ;o)

Other stuff

Work photos:

In these pic’s you can see me, but also some of my students working in the labs.  The great thing about studying Sports Science is the amount of time you get to spend in the laboratory investigating the human body’s responses to doing different kinds of exercise, in different kinds of environments.  You get to test lots of different people, from highly trained athletes, to people who want to use exercise to improve their health.  My students tell me that being in the labs is the best bit of their degree!

We have a number of different labs – if we want to simulate very extreme conditions, we use our environmental lab, which can be heated up to +50 degC, or cooled to -10 degC, and our hypoxic chamber can simulate being at the top of the worlds highest mountains:


At other times we test people’s responses to exercise in the research lab – like how much energy they use when they are exercising, or what fuel they are using to give them energy:


In the lab we also have to take blood and urine samples, and we analyse these in our biochemistry laboratory:


Sometimes I am lucky enough to do work outside of the lab, and my research has taken me all around the world.  My favourite trips have been to study how the body (in particular the central nervous system) responds to cycling the Tour de France route, and how we respond to living at high altitude, by spending a month living in a pyramid in the Himalayas, close to Mount Everest.


Sometimes, work gets to be really fun, and we have TV crews come in to film our work, to tell the public about it.  We have done a number of TV shows, the most recent being BBC Horizon, where Michael Mosley came in to find out about brain stimulation, and exercising in our hypoxic chamber which simulates high altitude.