Department: Comparative Biomedical Sciences

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Centres: Structure & Motion Laboratory

Post-doctoral Research Associate in locomotor biomechanics and public engagement, investigating the mechanics of bipedal, tripedal and quadrupedal gait, with a significant focus on outreach and engagement work.

Zoe graduated from Bristol University in 2007 with a BSc(Hons) in Equine Science. A large proportion of her degree focused on units in biomechanics and exercise physiology, as well as general mammalian anatomy. During her degree, Zoe was fascinated by animal locomotion and the use of both biology and physics in the understanding of animal movement. She pursued this further by writing her undergraduate dissertation on ‘The characterisation of abnormal respiratory sounds in exercising horses’ which lead to her interest in factors affecting athletic performance.

Following her degree, Zoe took a year out to find a suitable PhD which would engage her interests in both athletic performance and biomechanics. The perfect opportunity arose in a project with Professor Alan Wilson at the RVC, funded by BBSRC and Turftrax Ltd. Zoe successfully defended her thesis entitled ‘Biomechanical factors limiting athletic performance in racehorses’ in December 2012.

Taking a break from full-time research, Zoe took time to pursue her interests in teaching, working as a Lecturer in biomechanics at Middlesex University and then as a Senior Lecturer in functional anatomy and biomechanics at Writtle College (HE). Through her teaching experience, Zoe gained a Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and achieved the status of Fellow of The Higher Education Academy.

Zoe returned to the RVC's Structure and Motion Laboratory from 2015-2021, working as a Post-doctoral Research Associate with Professor Jim Usherwood on his Wellcome Trust funded research.

Zoe has since qualified as a Veterinary Physiotherapist and now combines this with her research experience to specialise in veterinary musculoskeletal rehabilitation.

Zoe has particular interests in the biomechanics of athletic performance and comparative functional anatomy. As an undergraduate, Zoe investigated the characterisation of abnormal respiratory sounds in horses with laryngeal neuropathies, which led to her interest in the athletic performance of racehorses. Pursuing this further, Zoe's PhD project investigated the biomechanical factors affecting athletic performance in Thoroughbred racehorses, collecting ground reaction force data for high-speed, overground galloping in the horse for the first time.

During her teaching experience Zoe supervised undergraduate research projects in human athletic performance (Middlesex University) and equine physiotherapy (Writtle College).

Zoe returned to the RVC to work on a Wellcome Trust funded project investigating the 'Fundamental limits on muscle-actuated locomotor tasks' with Professor Jim Usherwood and then worked on Jim's recent Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship on the 'Muscle-Mechanical Compromise Framework'. Zoe's main focus here was in gait analysis of canines including a project investigating the tripedal locomotion of canine amputees.

Self Davies, Z. T., Spence, A. J., & Wilson, A. M. (2019). Ground reaction forces of overground galloping in ridden Thoroughbred racehorses. Journal of Experimental Biology, 222(16), jeb204107.

Self Davies, Z.T., Spence, A. J.  and Wilson, A. M. (2019). External mechanical work in the galloping racehorse. 15 Biology Letters. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0709

Usherwood, J. R., Hubel, T. Y., Smith, B. J. H., Self Davies, Z. T., & Sobota, G. (2018). The scaling or ontogeny of human gait kinetics and walk-run transition: The implications of work vs. peak power minimization. Journal of biomechanics.

Usherwood, J.R. and Self Davies, Z.T. (2017). Work minimization accounts for footfall phasing in slow quadrupedal gaits. Elife. 2017 Sep 14;6. pii: e29495. doi: 10.7554/eLife.29495.

Self, Z.T., Spence, A.J. and Wilson, A.M. (2012). Speed and incline during thoroughbred horse racing: racehorse speed supports a metabolic power constraint to incline running but not to decline running. J Appl Physiol. August 15, 2012113:(4)602-607;published ahead of print June 7, 2012.

Other Writing:

Zoe Self Davies (2018). Human walking: Mechanics and muscles. Biological Sciences Review April 2018 30:4.

Self, Z.T. (2012). Helium breathing shows Dolphins don’t whistle. ‘Outside JEB’ doi: 10.1242/?jeb.063834 J Exp Biol 215, iv-v.

Self, Z.T. (2012) Why don’t woodpeckers get headaches? ‘Outside JEB’ doi: 10.1242/ jeb.064147 J

Blog post for the Society of Biology:

Blog posts for Naturejobs:

Conference Presentations:

Self Davies, Z.T. and Usherwood, J.R. (2017).  Are crawling humans more like horses or hippos? (Talk + Poster) Society for Experimental Biology, Gothenburg.

Self Davies, Z.T. and Usherwood, J.R. (2017) Stepping into Science: engagement doesn't have to be a selfless act. (Poster) Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, New Orleans.

Self, Z.T. and Usherwood, J.R. (2015). Jumping biscuits and silly walks: how to engage school children in mechanical modelling. (Poster) Society for Experimental Biology, Prague.

Self, Z.T. and Usherwood, J.R. (2015). Silly walks: do we engage our undergraduates as effectively as we engage the public? (Poster) Society for Experimental Biology, Prague.

Self, Z.T., Spence, A.J. and Wilson, A.M. (2013). Ground reaction forces in racehorses. (Oral) Society for Experimental Biology, Valencia.

Self, Z.T. (2013). What can we learn from nature’s athletes? (Oral) Association for Science Education, Hertfordshire.

Self, Z.T., Spence, .A.J. and Wilson, A.M. (2012). Jump Racing: do horses slow down due to a force limit? (Oral) Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Charleston.

Self, Z.T. (2012). Horses support the weight of a small car on one leg! (Poster) SET for Britain, House of Commons, London.

Self, Z.T., Spence, .A.J. and Wilson, A.M. (2010). Horse racing: what's the limit? (Oral) Society for Experimental Biology, Prague.

Self, Z.T., Spence, .A.J. and Wilson, A.M. (2009). Does running downhill affect maximum speed? (Poster) Society for Experimental Biology, Glasgow.

In 2012, Zoe worked as a Lecturer in biomechanics at the London Sport Institute, Middlesex University. In this post, Zoe led modules in biomechanics for undergraduate students and taught on the undergraduate Human Anatomy course, as well as supervising a large number of BSc. and MSc. dissertation projects. Zoe successfully completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education at Middlesex University in 2014 and achieved the status of Fellow of The Higher Education Academy.

In 2013, Zoe was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Equine Science (HE) at Writtle College and led on a number of anatomy, physiology and biomechanics based modules, teaching both undergraduate (BSc.) and postgraduate (MSc.) students. Zoe lectured to large cohorts and delivered practical based sessions. During this time, she was involved in the writing and preparation of new courses in Veterinary Physiotherapy which were successfully validated for delivery in 2014. Zoe returned to Writtle College as an hourly paid lecturer on the Veterinary Physiotherapy course in 2016.

Zoe taught on the Comparative Animal Locomotion module and supervised undergraduate BSc dissertation students within the Structure and Motion Lab.

During her PhD, Zoe organised trips into the Structure and Motion Lab at the Royal Veterinary College for local school children to experience a different area of science; helped to run experiments during university open days; took part in UCL’s ‘Bright Club’, including an online podcast; presented at the British Science Association’s Communication Conference, and demonstrated the RHEX robot at the Science Museum’s ‘Antenna Live’. She also demonstrated at Bang Goes The Theory Fair (BBC) through the Society of Biology.

Through work at Middlesex University, Zoe took part in a number of sports science demonstrations at the World Skills Show and Higher Education fairs. Zoe also took part in School visits and STEM events at Writtle College.

As part of her post-doctoral work, Zoe focussed on a project to bring current research into schools and idesigned and trialed a number of  lessons for schools, building a link between her research focus and the National Curriculum. Zoe ran a Forces Workshop with Year 5 groups in Hertfordshire and  also designed and ran a travelling activity for science fairs called 'Stepping Into Science', you can read more about this here:

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