Wednesday morning saw the Rhodes University Human Kinetics and Ergonomic (HKE) department deliver a compelling Scifest presentation on measuring and maximising the performance of the human body.

The presentation, aptly named “Unpacking human performance,” was held inside the department building. It was led by lecturer Jono Davy, PhD student Ben Ryan, and Masters students Travis Steenekamp and Cathy Munro, with third year HKE students taking turns to assist.

Attendees were put through their paces using the department’s equipment. One machine utilised was the metalyzer, which is used to measure bodily performance while on a treadmill in order to help athletes with dieting and training. It even goes as far as to determine the ratio between carbohydrates and fat burning while running.

Another crowd favourite was the inverted prism goggles, which turn the wearer’s field of vision upside down. Volunteers wearing the goggles were asked to walk between two chairs, crawl under a table and walk on top of a step, before kicking a soccer ball into an empty net.

According to Ryan, this exercise – which first year HKE students are often subjected to – proves the importance of vision and gives people an idea of how the mind would have to adapt should an individual lose one of their senses.

Meanwhile, Steenekamp explained that rigorous motor learning could improve performance to such a degree that an experienced soccer player would not have to look at the ball in order to know where it was. As proof, he cited a study on Cristiano Ronaldo, a four-time world player of the year.

Third year journalism student Marjorie Namara Rugunda unsuccessfully attempts to kick a soccer ball while wearing the inverted prism goggles. Photo: Leonard Solms

“They did a study of Ronaldo standing in the 18-yard box and they would turn the lights off as soon as someone had taken a corner. He could still predict where the ball was going. He could still header it… He was studying the corner kicker’s body movement, but because he had done this autonomous bodily action so many times, he could still predict where the ball was going and where he should be,” he said.

While the next Ronaldo may not be found in Grahamstown, the HKE department is using its research to aid athletes in the Makana area. Scifest gave them a chance to present their work to keen listeners from across the country. Although Wednesday’s attendance was limited to a small group of particularly keen viewers, the crowd went home having gained exposure to highly specialised equipment and information.