Pressure sensors could help build a suitable football helmet to protect the brain

Many athletes, from soccer players to horse riders, rely on helmets to protect their heads from bumps or drops. However, a loose or ill-fitting helmet could make them vulnerable to traumatic brain injury (TBI), one of the leading causes of death or disability in the United States. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Sensors have developed a highly sensitive pressure sensor cap that, when worn under a helmet, could help reveal if the headgear is a perfect fit.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.6 to 3.8 million sports and leisure-related TBIs occur each year in the United States. information on how a helmet fits the head of an individual player. To help observe and better understand the fit of the helmet, Simin Masihi, Massood Atashbar and their colleagues wanted to develop highly sensitive fabric-based sensors that could map pressure in real time.

The researchers made their sensors by placing a porous layer of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) between two conductive, fabric-based electrodes. They created uniform pores in the PDMS layer by mixing and heating PDMS, sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda), and nitric acid, which released carbon dioxide bubbles. . When the team applied pressure to the sensor, the porous material compressed, causing a change in capacitance as the space between the two electrodes narrowed. To demonstrate a wearable helmet fit system, the researchers added 16 pressure sensors at different locations on a cap. Three volunteers wore the cap under a football helmet, and the sensors correctly revealed that the person with the biggest head circumference felt the most pressure around their head, especially in the front. The fitted cap could help athletes select the right standard helmet for their head and allow manufacturers to develop custom helmets to reduce the severity of sports-related head injuries, the researchers say.

Reference: Masihi S, Panahi M, Maddipatla D, et al. Highly sensitive porous capacitive PDMS based pressure sensors fabricated on a fabric platform for portable applications. ACS Meaning. 2021. doi: 10.1021 / acssensors.0c02122

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