Tāmaki Innovation Campus

Life is better with coffee!

Charlotte Connell enjoying a cup of coffee in the campus cafe.
Charlotte Connell admits to liking a good cup of coffee.

Researchers and scientists pulling all-nighters and relying on caffeine boosts may have PhD researcher Charlotte Connell to thank for putting sound science behind the theory.

She’s entering her second year of PhD study in the exercise metabolism laboratory, supervised by Dr Nick Gant. Charlotte is looking how fatigue can influence the way the brain receives, processes and responds to visual information.

“The objective,” she says, “is to provide insights into methods which help overcome fatigue and may help those suffering from disorders characterised by fatigue, such as chronic fatigue and mild brain injury.”

Her poster, ‘Coffee: more than meets the eye’, won first prize at both the university-wide ‘Exposure’ Postgraduate Research Exposition, and the Faculty of Science poster competition.

Although she describes designing the poster as ‘a nice extra-curricular activity’, its roots reside in a conference she attended last year, the largest vision science conference in the world. There she presented the results of her BSc (Hons) research which examined the effect of fatigue on the control of eye movements.

Her caffeine-rich research is evaluating the powerful effects of caffeine on both visual and cognitive capabilities and the dosages required to achieve this. An endurance athlete, for instance, will be looking for a moderate dosage where they experience optimal perceptual and cognitive benefits without the potential negative side effects such as dizziness or tremors.

Over the summer Charlotte has been investigating the effects of caffeine on visual and cognitive function at high altitude. Not all of the impairments that mountaineers experience are caused by low oxygen and caffeine may help restore brain function.

Charlotte began her academic career with a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science as it gave her an opportunity to spend time learning about the things which she is most passionate about - science, the human body and exercise.

She competes in a range of sports and recently completed her second marathon- but is unwilling to say whether it was coffee-assisted!

Charlotte has received a number of awards and scholarships including the University of Auckland Chancellor’s Award for Top Māori and Pacific Scholars.

This article was first published in the March 2014 Tāmaki Update