Mother Nature Inspired IUPUI Students’ Design for a Safer Football Helmet: News at IU: Indiana University


Two IUPUI students drew on the wisdom of Mother Nature to create biologically inspired designs that could be used to create a safer football helmet.

Their research has been published in the Society of Automotive Engineering International Journal of Transportation Safety.

The student authors of the article, “Cellular Helmet Liner Design through Bio-Inspired Structures and Topology Optimization of Compliant Mechanism Lattices”, are Jacob DeHart, media arts and science student at the School of Informatics and Computing, and Joel Najmon, a student engineer at the School of Engineering and Technology.

Zebulun Wood, lecturer in media arts and sciences, and Andres Tovar, associate professor of mechanical and energy engineering and assistant professor of biomedical engineering, are co-authors and co-directors of this research project.

“Our research and design algorithms show innovative and energy-absorbing cellular helmet liners,” Najmon said. “Cellular helmet liners are ideal for impact energy absorption, as their structures can mimic the excellent absorption capabilities of foam and biological energy-protecting structures while retaining the ability to be designed for specific impacts and dynamic responses. “

The two students had the reins of experimenting and exploring different ways of doing something that could be of benefit to people, DeHart said. “I took a more interpretive look at nature, mimicking the functions and forms of nature, while Joel adopted a more scientific one, putting numbers into a program to get results.”

This work shows the lessons learned from bio-inspired designs using protective structures such as the pomelo skin, nautilus shell and woodpecker skull, Tovar said. “Our work explores a design approach to tailor the response of a cellular material under impact, an approach that offers the potential to mitigate head injuries by decreasing acceleration, decreasing penetration, and increasing l specific energy absorption. “

“What really stands out from this study is that nature, through millions of years of innovation and evolution, knows best,” said Wood. “We took some of nature’s harshest surfaces – surfaces that could be translated into helmet design – and recreated them in a way that can be simulated in engineering software.”

Nature may have inspired cell designs, but it took months for students to figure out how the bio-inspired shapes developed by DeHart could be recreated so that they could be used by Najmon in engineering simulation software that showed whether their helmet liner would reduce the risk of injury.

The challenge the two students faced, said Wood, was learning how to create geometric shapes inspired by nature but which can also be simulated in engineering software. “Until our experience, it was very difficult to do. It is always difficult to do. Now IUPUI knows how to make these shapes work together.”

The kind of collaboration that has allowed students to bridge the gap between the fields of media arts and science and engineering could only happen on a campus like IUPUI which encourages people from different fields to work together, Wood said.

The helmet liner study was funded by a grant from the IUPUI Sports Innovation Institute.


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