Mark Burnley

Favourite Thing: My favorite thing to do is to collect and present data that nobody has ever seen before, which changes the way people think about how the human body works.



Neville Lovett Community School (1988-1993), Fareham College (1993-1995)


University of Brighton: BSc (Hons) Sports Science (1995-1998), PhD Exercise Physiology (1998-2001).

Work History:

2001-2002: Lecturer, exercise physiology and biomechanics, University of Brighton. 2002-present: Lecturer, exercise physiology, Aberystwyth University


Aberystwyth University

Current Job:

Senior Lecturer, Exercise Physiology.

Me and my work

I study the way in which the body provides energy to power the muscles from the uptake of oxygen, and how the body fatigues when you work hard.

I was born in Portsmouth in 1977, weighing in at a hefty 4 lb 4 oz (that’s about 2 kg). I have a twin sister born 8 minutes after me and she has been trying to beat me at everything else since. I grew up in Fareham and then went to university in Eastbourne (which is where the University of Brighton run their sports-related courses). I left there with a PhD.

My PhD looked at how the body responds to “warm up” exercise. To do this, I measured how the body takes up oxygen breath-by-breath and found that one of the effects of warm up is to increase the amount of oxygen the body can use. I also discovered that this is because the body gets more muscles working after a warm up than it did before.

Since my PhD I have studied a thing called “critical power”. Critical power explains why running slowly is easy and running fast is hard. We can also measure how the muscles become fatigued when you exercise hard, by stimulating the muscles with electricity and measuring what is inside the muscles before, during, and after exercise.

To help keep in touch with other scientists, I belong to the Physiological Society, the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences and the American College of Sports Medicine. I also do a lot of what scientists call “peer review” where I read papers and decide whether they are good enough to be published. I am on the Editorial Board of two journals: the Journal of Applied Physiology, and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

My Typical Day

A typical day would involve teaching students in a lecture theatre or lab class, sending emails to various people all over the world, and trying to write and review research papers.

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to use the money to develop a smartphone application aimed at introducing people to the science underpinning sport.

I’d like to develop a mobile phone application to introduce people to science because to my knowledge this has never been tried before. The idea would be to have an App that could be used by somebody actually doing sport as well as a spectator at an event or watching at home. Apps are really only limited by your imagination, so this app could really develop in any way we like, but here is an example of what it would do:

When you download the app, the first option you will have is to choose a sport. Let’s say you chose “running”. This would then lead to a number of other options, such as “world records”, “My running”, “Running for health” and “Pacing strategy”. Under “World records”, you could choose an event (say, the 100 m), and it would give you information on the current world records for men and women. Here there would also be an option to “Dig deeper”. This is the key to the scientific part of the app. Under this option, if you had chosen the 100 m, there would be information on the physiology, psychology and biomechanics of the 100 m, which would be pitched at the level you want to understand it at (e.g., GCSE level, A-Level and degree-level). The other options include “My running”, in which you would enter all of your personal best times and the app would predict scientific parameters from this (for example, you could predict your maximal oxygen uptake, maximal sustained pace and your “anaerobic capacity” from these measures (and the app would also explain why these predictions are scientifically limited!) – the app would also explain what all of these things mean. The “running for health” option would explain how regular exercise can be used to maintain health, and could include a pedometer/step counter function using the phone’s GPS and accelerometers (if it has them). Finally, the “pacing strategy” option would allow you to input your fitness parameters from “My running” and predict how fast to run a given even (such as the 800 m). It could even do this in real time, so if you run the first lap slowly it could predict how fat you should be able to run the next lap and, as always, it will explain the physiological reasons for this prediction with the “dig deeper” option.

As I asid in the beginning, there really is no limit to what this app could do. The money will therefore be used to build a Beta-version of this application with help from our computer science department in Aberystwyth, to be presented as part of a future “I’m a Scientist…” event. After this, a fully-developed version will be released globally.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Modest comedy genius

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

Being driven around Ferrari’s Fiorano track by one of their test drivers: “Do you like going sideways?” “Yes.” “OK…”

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

To be happy, to be healthy, and to be inspired. These sound a bit rubbish but they are all you need to be an effective scientist.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I am what I wanted to be. I’d have liked to have been a helicopter pilot too though.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

When about 8 or 9 years old my friends and I played with fire a lot. One day we accidentally set fire to a Napoleonic fort. We called the fire brigade before it got out of hand, but the police were not happy.

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

Personally, my PhD is the best thing I’ve done because it was 3 years of very hard work and I wouldn’t be able to be a scientist without it.

Tell us a joke.

What is black and white and eats like a horse? A zebra.