Researchers at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems are creating a new football helmet to reduce concussions. With the help of a group of students and MSU professors, Mark Horstemeyer, chair professor of computational solid mechanics and a Giles Distinguished Professor, is at the forefront of research that will make an impact on a sport that encourages hard hits and tough tackles.
Because of advancements in equipment and changes in safety regulations, football-related deaths have decreased over the years. However, the number of concussions has not been reduced since the leatherhead days.
Modern football helmets save players from death but not concussions, a fact the group hopes to change. Professors Lakiesha Williams and Raj Prabhu from the agricultural and biological engineering department at Missisisppi State University and several doctoral students have teamed up with Horstemeyer to redesign football helmets and make them more biologically accurate and effective.
Former doctoral student Wes Trim and current doctoral student Kyle Johnson (pictured) are examining the bighorn sheep ram’s horn to analyze the shock mitigation mechanisms within the horn. Doctoral student Nayeon Lee is studying woodpecker’s beaks to understand how the material’s properties react to shock mitigation. The spiral geometry of both the ram’s horn and woodpecker’s hyoid bone transform a longitudinal normal stress wave into a shear wave, causing the wave to disperse. Johnson is also employing multi-scale modeling techniques to optimize the facemask design. By making the facemask lighter in weight, the center of gravity is shifted away from the neck region near the nose to reduce the torques on the neck. Another doctoral student, Alston Rush, is focusing on dissipating the energy under a football impact by introducing functionally graded foams.
Because of the success of their research, the MSU team created a start-up company called Rush Prediction Protective Systems. The company is a joint venture with another MSU start-up company, Predictive Design Technologies (www.predictivedesigntech.com), and Rush Sports Medical, which was founded by Rush’s father Sonny Rush of Meridian, Mississippi. They currently have 12 patents and are working on a few more in hopes of releasing the helmet to MSU football players at spring practice.