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Researchers Study Effect of Blunt Force on TBIs to Help Improve Helmet Design

sandia-national-laboratoriesResearchers at Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico (UNM), both in Albuquerque, NM, are working to improve helmet designs, comparing supercomputer simulations of blast waves on the brain with clinical studies of veterans suffering from mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The team hopes to identify threshold levels of stress and energy in order to create better military and sports helmet designs.

Paul Taylor, PhD, and John Ludwigsen, PhD, from Sandia’s terminal ballistics technology department, and Corey Ford, PhD, MD, a neurologist at UNM’s Health Sciences Center, are reportedly in the final year of a 4-year study about mild TBI funded by the Office of Naval Research.

“Our ultimate goal is to help our military and eventually our civilian population by providing guidance to helmet designers so they can do a better job of protecting against some of these events we are seeing clinically and from a physics perspective,” Taylor says. “To do that, we’ve got to know what are the threshold conditions that correlate with various levels of TBI.”

Taylor is applying shock wave physics to try to understand how sensitive brain tissue is affected by waves from roadside bombs or blunt impacts with the first 5 milliseconds to 10 milliseconds—before a victim’s head moves any significant distance in response to the blast. According to Ford, levels of energy transmitted into the brain by a blast wave “could be part of the injury mechanism associated with TBI, and the mechanism by which it happens may not be mitigated by traditional methods of protecting the head with a helmet.”

The research team hopes the identification of threshold levels of stress and energy could be used to program sensors placed on helmets to show whether a blast or blunt impact is strong enough to cause TBI.

[Source: Sandia National Laboratories]