Football is the American sport. And it is sometimes dangerous. Most sports can be. But concussions, traumatic brain injuries and their long-term side effects have become a sometimes deadly epidemic that can no longer be ignored by college and national football leagues.
In September 2015, Reported on the front line that researchers identified the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the brain tissue of 131 out of 165 people who played football professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school.
Universities and colleges across the country have begun pouring money and research into innovative football safety projects:
The University of Michigan School of Engineering research team has developed a shock-absorbing football helmet that combats some of the physical damage that most modern head protection technologies ignore.
Helmet manufacturers and health researchers tend to look at a variety of factors, but most focus their designs solely on the maximum force they can withstand. All in all, most scientists and helmet manufacturers still don’t know how a blow to the head translates to brain damage.
The University of Michigan project, called Mitigatium, decided to take a different approach. Research has determined that for head protection to be most effective, helmets must protect against both force and impulse.
So what exactly is impulse?
Science defines momentum as the side effect of an initial force that transmits kinetic energy through a system. Put simply, it is the reverberant energy that affects an object after it has been touched.
Why is impulse an important consideration for football helmet manufacturers?
Ellen Arruda, Mitigatium team leader and professor at the University of Michigan School of Engineering, explained its importance in an interview with Michigan Radio:
“Our analysis of the brain and skull as a dynamical system shows us that momentum and magnitude of force can cause the brain to move relative to the skull. So if the brain moves relative to the skull, it can snapping the skull.Or if it moves or deforms at all, it can also cause injury.So force and impulse can cause brain damage.
Using ancient medical literature, a series of simulated tests and drawing inspiration from other helmet designs, the Mitigatium team demonstrated the hidden importance of impulse protection.
“We’ve looked at all of these helmets and determined that when it comes to protecting the skull and attenuating force, they do well. But when it comes to reducing impulse or removing energy from impact, they did very little to dissipate that energy.”
“We started with the advanced combat helmet and the enhanced combat helmet that the Department of Defense had for soldiers and marines. These are more complicated than sports helmets, and so we considered sports helmets to be the fruit at hand,” Arruda explained. “And really, the design of a football, hockey, or lacrosse helmet is basically quite similar. We’ve looked at all of those helmets and determined that when it comes to skull protection and force attenuation, they But when it comes to reducing momentum or removing impact energy, they have done very little to dissipate that energy.
In the Mitigatium experiments, teams were able to tell how well the current model blocked both force and impulse and how distorted the speckled pattern on a brain layer was.
When the Mitigatium prototype was tested, the impulse from an impact was reduced to only 20% of what passed through the brain model in the current helmet model.
The video below was released by Michigan’s School of Engineering earlier this year to promote the research team and their helmet.
The University of Michigan Mitigatium team was one of five winners of Head Health Challenge III.
The competition began in 2013 when the NFL, Under Armor and GE teamed up to create a competition aimed at improving American football safety. As one of the finalists in this year’s competition, Professor Arruda and his colleagues won a $250,000 prize and another year to perfect their prototype.
Arruda expects a bright future for the Mitigatium team. Over the coming year, the team plans to test other options and materials that will best attenuate impulse and force:
“Our strategy was to find a combination of materials that was the best for dissipating the energy. What we entered into the competition was literally a combination of ready-made materials from a material supply company. We bought a bunch of them, tested them in the lab, looked at their properties, and tried to design a system that could do the best job with the time we had,” Arruda explained. “So what we’re looking at right now is potentially synthesizing new materials that will work better and exploring a lot more existing materials that will find an optimal combination that will be even better than what we submitted.”