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UCRISE forges new partnership for female protective equipment research collaboration

Emma Larouche

6 March 2024: The University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE) is elevating its capabilities to make sportwear and protective equipment more inclusive, working with Professor Susan Sokolowski, from the University of Oregon’s Sports Product Design program.

Professor Sokolowski, who also has extensive experience in industry with major sportswear organisations, visited the University last month, touring the UCRISE biomechanics lab and presenting her work on inclusive design sizing and fit.

“I look at inclusivity and product design around sports and protective equipment, and have found women and minorities are being injured by wearing product that wasn't made for their bodies,” Professor Sokolowski said.

“I have a real compassion for doing something right and helping people be successful in their jobs or their sport, and also helping them feel confident and perform as best as they can.”

Professor Sokolowski’s visit was driven by Dr Celeste Coltman, an Associate Professor in Applied Biomechanics at UCRISE. Biomechanics is the study of movement – including looking at how the structure and function of the human body influences and produces movement.

Dr Coltman specialises in breast biomechanics and has worked with the Department of Defence for the past five years on the needs and requirements for body armour primarily for female users.

“I visited the University of Oregon in 2019 and saw firsthand the links between our research interests,” Dr Coltman said.

“There are many studies that evaluate physiological or biomechanical performance outcomes when participants wear equipment, but they haven't assessed the equipment fit – working together we can show that fit matters and affects performance.”

Both Professor Sokolowski and Dr Coltman hope to increase their collaborative capabilities through student involvement in the “development and evaluation” processes of female protective equipment research and product development.

“Students from both institutions could be involved in the evaluation of a new or improved product design for example, and given I also work closely with our industrial design team here at UC, the partnership has the potential to not only give students a valuable international experience, but also build on cross-faculty connections within the University,” Dr Coltman said.

The partnership plans to build on Dr Coltman’s work with Defence and in sport and exercise, and Professor Sokolowksi’s work on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) design, sizing and fit.

“Whether it’s women in sport, as military personnel or firefighters, they are all considered athletes who are working hard and exerting energy. They need to thermoregulate, they need to move, they need to be safe, they need to be covered – all of these things are important to their performance,” Professor Sokolowski said.

“Our work is already removing barriers for women to succeed in male-dominated occupations and sport, through better equipment and apparel design, and future collaborations will build and strengthen performance and inclusivity,” Dr Coltman said.