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Football Helmets Could Soon Prevent Concussion, With Help From NIST

Morguefile football collision e1450454109692

By now, even casual football fans know that the game they enjoy puts itsplayers at risk of serious head injuries. So the NFL, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Under Armour, and GE have joined forces to tackle this problem head-on.Last week, theyannounced the five winners of Head Health Challenge (HHC) III, an open innovation competition to accelerate the development of energy-absorbing materials that can better protect against head injury.

Current helmets protect the skull from fractures upon impact, but can't stop a player'sbrain fromthe 'rattling around' thatcauses a concussion. A helmet made with these new materials wouldabsorb or dissipate the energy from an impact, preventing the impact from ever reaching the brain. The new materials have vast potential for more than just pro football players—they could improve the performance of protective gear, playing surfaces, and equipmentfor otherathletes, members of the military and first responders,and evenchildren (think bike helmets).

Each winning teamwill receive $250,000 and the support of NIST scientists and the rest of the HHC team to advance their work in developing state-of-the-art materials. One of the five willeventually wina $500,000 grand prize.

“Our NIST experts are looking forward to working with the winning research teams as they further develop their innovative materials,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Willie E. May.“The winning materials show a great deal of ingenuity in their approaches to energy absorption and have the potential to improve the next generation of protective systems.”

The Challenge III award winners are:

  • Alba Technic, LLC (Winthrop, Maine) has developed a patented, shock-absorbent honeycomb material with an outer layer that diverts the energy from a fall or hit. The material is normally soft and compliant, but upon impact the outer layer changes into a hard shell to spread the energy and protect the user from injury.
  • Charles Owen Inc. (Lincolnton, Ga.) made cellular structures that use a stacked, origami-like design to optimize energy absorption. The essential building block of this winning material is a double corrugated sheet of the material, whose ability to fold efficiently was originally developed for applications in areas such as solar array packing in the space industry.
  • Corsair Innovations (Plymouth, Mass.) has developed a textile that uses tiny, spring-like fibers to repel rotational and linear impacts, thereby reducing potential damage. Unlike foam materials, this textile is washable, breathable, wicks sweat, and can be easily engineered to meet impact performance requirements.
  • Dynamic Research, Inc. (Torrance, Calif.) and 6D Helmets, LLC are collaborating to evolve 6D’s single-impact suspension technology for use in repeated impact conditions. The suspension technology consists of a multi-layer, suspended internal liner system that allows the outer layer to move independently of the inner layer in order to reduce the effect of both angular and linear impact forces.
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.) researchers designed a lightweight, multi-layered composite that includes a viscoelastic material. This material can be uniquely utilized to limit the force of multiple and repeated impact events.

A team ofmaterials and engineering expertsfrom universities, DARPA, and Lockheed Martin judged the competition.

“By utilizing our open innovation platform, we’ve discovered some of the most forward-thinking material innovators that will positively affect the future of impact protection," saidKevin Haley, president for product and innovation at Under Armour. "Our hope is that the groundbreaking work being done by our five winners will help drive material innovation in the name of safety across a variety of applications, and we are extremely impressed with the progress made to date.”

Head Health Challenge III, part of the larger Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60-million collaboration between GE and the NFL, is one of three open innovation challenges to invest up to $20 million in research and technology development to better understand, identify, and protect against brain injury.

For more about the materials, watch NIST's video about the challenge, or read this story (with morevideo—check out the way the rubber ball doesn't bounce!)from the Washington Business Journal.

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