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Bringing PhD research in to business

Professor Steve Haake, head of the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University, laid the ground for developing sports engineering as a field of academic study when he organised the subject’s first conference back in 1996. Professor Haake’s group has had many years of experience in delivering a wide range of research and development activity for commercial companies, sports governing bodies and professional teams.

Heather Driscoll joined Professor Haake’s group to do a PhD investigating shoe-surface interactions in football in collaboration with Adidas. The project, which she completed in 2012, formed part of the company’s long-term research into the traction of football boots and the design of appropriate stud configurations.

Dr Driscoll says that one of the great attractions of coming to work in Professor Haake’s department at Sheffield Hallam was its inter-disciplinary nature. Her PhD involved a range of specialist sports engineering skills including analytical and computational modelling, experimental and player testing, high-speed video analysis, image processing, data analysis and design.

She began with three months at Adidas’s headquarters in Germany, using their test facilities to collate data for her research. She worked closely with the company as her doctorate progressed, with regular phone conference meetings as well as one to two day workshops both in Sheffield and in Germany. Dr Driscoll says, ‘It certainly helped me knowing that my work was applicable in the real world. I saw all elements of the company – design, process and manufacturing – and they showed me round saying this is how you can help us in the future.’

Since completing her PhD, Dr Driscoll – who is now a research associate in the equipment mechanics team – has been involved in two consultancy projects for Adidas. She has remained in touch with her supervisors at the company, and says the experience she gained working with them has proved invaluable.

The ongoing relationship between Adidas and the Centre for Sports Engineering Research has also led to a number of research consultancy projects with other staff in the centre. The company now has a clear understanding of where Sheffield Hallam’s areas of expertise lie, and they are able to email staff asking for advice on particular ideas or problems.

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