Combining passions to create unique research

In his final semester at the School of Kinesiology, Brian Neff, a Kinesiology Bachelor of Science major and honors student, was awarded an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) grant to help fund his honors thesis research. 

“I was first introduced to research working in Dr. Diane Wiese-Bjornstal’s Sports Medicine Psychology Lab,” Neff said. “I worked closely with a graduate student and helped with her project, I really enjoyed it. After that experience I knew I wanted to do my own research.” 

And that’s exactly what Neff did. Inspired by his interest in the book “The Body Electric” by Rober O. Becker and his passion for snow sports, he came up with his thesis idea: understanding how chromotherapy might improve alpine skiers performance. He worked to come up with a test that would quantify that. His study plans to measure lower extremity strength and balance performance for skiers, while they are wearing a variety of different colored lenses.

“There was a gap in the literature and understanding of how color therapy might improve or affect a skiers performance,” Neff said. “I thought that this would be especially relevant for skiers. They’re often wearing different goggles and lenses, and skiing in a wide variety of visibility conditions.” 

Neff is an avid snowboarder himself and he is particularly interested in athlete performance. He is a certified personal trainer and has spent previous semesters as an intern for Cal Dietz, the associate director of athletic performance for men’s and women’s ice hockey. This thesis question touched on those two major points of interest for Neff, and felt like the perfect fit for his final research project. 

“I’ve always been interested in sport performance,” Neff said. “But, there’s not really the same emphasis on strength and performance when you get into extreme sports. I think it’s a missed opportunity.” 

So, Neff worked with Chris Lundstrom, PhD, who’s areas of research include endurance training and performance, exercise physiology, and sports science. 

“I had taken a few classes with Dr. Lundstrom in the past and really enjoyed them,” Neff said. “I was interested in sport performance and I had volunteered in his lab (The Human Sport Performance Laboratory) briefly. His lab also already has a lot of the equipment I would need to do this study.” 

Lundstrom became Neff’s thesis advisor and fellow School of Kinesiology faculty members Sarah Greising, PhD, and Thomas Stoffregen, PhD served as his honors thesis readers. 

“Brian has approached this project with immense energy and passion,” Lundstrom said. “It’s so fulfilling to work with students like him who are driven, curious and willing to put in the necessary work required to pursue interesting and novel questions.”

Neff said he applied for the UROP award on a suggestion as he was planning and putting together what he would need for his final thesis work.

“I knew I was going to do this research regardless of the UROP award,” Neff said. “I was still really happy to get the award, not just for the funding, but because it feels like the award committee valued my thesis idea, and thought it was worth researching and understanding. I think that’s really cool.” 

Neff said he was hopeful to complete the actual testing of his thesis, but with a freeze on undergraduate research due to COVID-19 he has not yet been able to do so. He gave a special thank you to his thesis team, and to Chelsey Thul, PhD, and Beth Lewis, PhD, who both served as the School of Kinesiology honors faculty representative’s during his time in the program. 

“I was definitely looking forward to actually doing the research and seeing the project through to the end,” Neff said. “But regardless, this has made me more interested in human performance, everything that influences that, and how complex it is. Particularly how connected the field of kinesiology is with other scientific disciplines like neuroscience.” 

Neff has always had a knack for combining interests and fields. Not only is he a Kinesiology BS major, but he will also graduate with minors in sports coaching and applied music with an emphasis in classical guitar. Regarding his future plans, Neff said, “nothing is set in stone.” But, he plans to continue his work as a strength coach and perhaps pursue further education. 

“I’d like to get more experience with coaching to apply the concepts that I’ve been studying,” Neff said. “Trying to find a way to use those tools and actually improve an individual’s performance is ultimately what is fulfilling to me. I know I don’t want to be a strength coach forever, but I really enjoy working with people.” 

Congratulations on your many accomplishments as an undergraduate student Brian. We’re excited to see where you go next, and we will be proud to call you an alumni of the School of Kinesiology!