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Sports & Exercise Science: Swansea University Excellence Research Scholarship: Integrating Tangible Physical Activity within the Curriculum

Swansea University is proud to offer 15 fully-funded PhD scholarships for students commencing study in October 2018 or January 2019.

The scholarships will be awarded on the basis of student excellence across a portfolio of 34 potential projects.

Project details:

The negative physiological and psychosocial impacts of physical inactivity are well-documented, with physical inactivity recognised as the fourth leading cause of mortality globally. Nonetheless, despite the widespread recognition of the importance of children achieving at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day, only 20% of children currently meet this guideline. This has led to the World Health Organisation (WHO) setting a global target of decreasing physical inactivity by 10% by 2025. However, despite repeated attempts, interventions aimed at sustainably increasing children’s physical activity levels (PAL) have had limited success; the WHO target will therefore only be achieved with radical changes in intervention approaches to increasing physical activity (PA).

Recent technological advances offer numerous opportunities for innovative interventions, with one novel approach revolving around the conceptualisation and visualisation of PA through 3D printed objects. Specifically, 3D printed objects enable the transformation of a performance (e.g. habitual PA) into a material object. Indeed, early work in adults supports the potential efficacy of 3D representations of heart rate and PA to enhance participant motivation, with more recent work from our laboratory suggesting that 3D models of PA may increase children and adolescents’ understanding of, and motivation to engage in PA. This increased understanding through visualisation aligns with the principle of objectification, which occurs when individuals take an unknown concept and make it concrete (Breakwell, 1993; Höijer, 2011; Howarth, 2006). However, whilst promising, studies to date have focussed on the short-term effects of 3D printed objects. If such interventions are to be successful at sustainably increasing physical activity levels, they must elicit long-term behaviour change.

Research shows that 80% of children and adolescents are visual and tactile learners (Rita & Dunn, 1979); relying simply on numbers and figures as a source of knowledge is limited (Petrakaki & Lupton, 2016), and richer ways of data representation are required (Hassenzahl, Laschke & Praest, 2016). Indeed, visualisations can play a key role in motivating individuals to enhance their physical activity levels, enabling reflection on personal performance and current activity levels (Li, Dey & Forlizzi, 2011). This highlights the potential utility of integrating 3D printed PA into the curriculum in a school-based intervention. Integrating PA throughout the curriculum seems a promising approach, which enables the promotion of PA throughout the school day at the same time as enhancing cross-curricular educational opportunities (Duncan et al. 2012; Oliver et al. 2006). However, whilst the impact of this approach could be important, it is not yet known whether an integrated curriculum would be feasible across year groups given the social pressures on PA.

Therefore, the aim of this PhD would be to build on our previous work regarding 3D printing PA in children by establishing whether an integrated school-based curriculum and 3D printing intervention is feasible and whether it can increase PA sustainability in children.

This PhD would help to foster further collaborations within the College of Engineering and across the University with Computer Science, Psychology and Education. This PhD has the potential to address numerous health and social issues at the individual, local and national level, translating to impact within this and the next REF cycle.

Supervisor / Academic contact: Dr Kelly Mackintosh

The successful applicant will also have access to our Postgraduate Research Student Training programmes.


Candidates should have (or expect to obtain) a first class honours degree (or equivalent) and/or a master's degree with distinction in a relevant subject area (sport and exercise science, engineering, computer science, education or psychology). 

Candidates should have experience of working with children and the ability to work with 3D printers.

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is open to UK/EU candidates only.

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The scholarship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend of £14,553 for 3 years. 

There will also be £1,000 per annum available for research expenses such as travel, accommodation, field trips and conference attendance.


Please visit our website for more information.

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