As understanding and awareness of the risk of concussions and more severe traumatic brain injuries grows, fans’ appreciation of the sound of football helmets colliding shrinks. But thanks to researchers at the Naval Academy, this cracking sound may be the source of new information about how brain injuries occur, and how to prevent and treat them in athletes, soldiers, and ordinary citizens.
Researchers in the physics department at Annapolis oversaw the study, which was inspired by the observation that the “crack” of two helmets meeting means that the collision occurred rapidly – and that the energy transferred from one head to another was thus very large. The researchers are among the first to study brain injuries from a physics perspective, rather than using a medical approach.
The researchers did not want to conduct a study on people – risking severe injuries – so instead chose to research using the helmets themselves. They filled the helmets with synthetic materials designed to mimic the head, skull, brain, and surrounding fluid. The materials included a thin polycarbonate hoop simulating the skull, porous plastic foam to simulate the fluid surrounding the brain, and a brass cylinder inside the foam to simulate the brain itself.
The researchers then used sophisticated motion sensors called accelerometers to measure the force of collisions, which they created by the simple expedient of hanging the helmets from clotheslines and swinging them towards each other. They also used oscilloscopes to track the vibrations and reverberations when the helmets collided.
They learned that each successive layer vibrated or “rung” with less intensity, and for a shorter period of time – the helmet, the skull, and the brain each decreasing the impact.
While this information may seem academic, our experienced brain injury attorneys believe it could have impressive practical significance. The results of the study suggested that injuries could be reduced if a layer of padding or foam were added to the outside of helmets – both athletic and military. This would decrease the impact before the force of the collision reaches the hard layer of the helmet, and thus further decrease the impact at each subsequent layer. Sports fans know that this would also reduce the temptation which football players currently have to use their helmet as a weapon.
We hope that researchers will continue to study brain injuries from all perspectives: medical and otherwise. These differing perspectives will together help to increase our understanding of brain injuries, leading to better prevention and treatment.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago brain injury lawyer at Passen Law Group, call us at (312) 527-4500.