Ashli Chew, UTC biochemistry major, works with middle and high school students in a study that connects mountain biking and reading brainwaves.

The Specialized Foundation uses cycling as a tool for children to achieve academic, health and social success. Through investments in medical research and school-based cycling programs, its mission is to help youth in personal development and education. For more information, go to:

At first glance, the sweaty effort of mountain biking doesn’t seem to have much in common with the relaxing tranquility of meditation.

But a group of UTC students from the Honors College are hoping to show that connection.

Ashli Chew, a junior biochemistry major, says she and the other UTC students expect to see an increase in academic performance after middle and high school students finish a round of biking.

“When we look at the brainwaves, what we expect to see is that, after aerobic exercise, they’ll go into a more meditative state,” Chew says.

A meditative state releases endorphins which improve mood and help students focus and perform better in school.

Jayda Spencer and her classmate at Lookout Valley Middle School participate in a mountain biking and brainwave study with UTC students.

Lookout Valley student Jayda Spencer says she felt more focused after riding the bikes and supports having stiffer physical education requirements. Currently school-aged students in Hamilton County are required to have nine weeks of physical education for the 18-week semester.

“It might help with me focusing on tests and stuff,” Spencer says. “And it’ll be a fun part of the day instead of sitting in class for eight hours a day.”

The Research

UTC students first teamed with physical education teacher Dan Basler at Lookout Valley Middle and High Schools, which are in the same building, as an assignment in a honors class taught by Andrew Bailey, associate professor and program coordinator for Sport, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management.

The research is funded by a grant from The Specialized Foundation, which gave the Lookout Valley schools over 20 bikes through its Riding for Focus initiative. The program initiative explores and tracks how cycling can positively affect student learning, health and well-being. It primarily focuses on those with learning differences such as ADHD.

In the experiments, middle and high school students are fitted with electroencephalogram, or  EEG, headwear to track their brainwaves. They are then sent out to bike for 20 minutes on the school’s running track. Tracking the brainwaves includes studying the students’ moods and ability to focus before and after the biking excursion.

Head gear, smartphones and other technology is used for the research study at Lookout Valley Middle and High Schools.

Through the research, UTC students are trying to demonstrate how physical activity could help students not only with their academic performance, but also help those with learning issues such as ADHD.

Basler hopes and expects that physical exercise will help. “We are trying to demonstrate the need for the mind and body to work together,” he says.

Hannah Holmberg, a sophomore biophysics major at UTC who is teaming with Chew on the project, says they hope to get the results of the biking project published and help Lookout Valley in the process.

“We’re hoping that we can really help out the county schools and give our research to the Specialized Foundation to help them further their work and research,” she says.

Chew adds that it’s fun to talk about her research with her peers.

“Not many people hear about EEG’s so when people ask me about my research it’s not a super-complicated thing, but it’s very important scientific research,” she says. “When I say that I’m measuring people’s brainwaves, they kind of get a deer-in-the-headlights look.”



Media Relations Contacts: Email Shawn Ryan or call (423) 425-4363.

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