By studying woodpeckers and rams, researchers at Mississippi State claim to have created a helmet that is significantly safer than the helmets being worn today.
If you think about the head trauma that both those animals incur in nature, it actually makes a lot of sense. Researchers found that the beak of a woodpecker apparently has a unique composition that prevents brain injury in the bird, and it is able to absorb the shock “up to 10 times greater than those withstood by football players.”
Through their research, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and key member of the design team Mark Horstemeyer noted that today’s helmets are designed more for visual appeal than safety.
The article outlining the research notes that after the team created a virtual model of the human head, they learned that most brain injuries don’t come from the initial hit, but rather from the stress waves that it causes that move back and forth through the tissue, damaging that tissue in the process. Today’s helmets help absorb the initial impact, and do little to stop those damaging shock waves that make their way through the tissue.
That’s where the effectiveness of the spiral shape of the rams’ horns come in, as the shape provides an escape route for shock waves away from the brain.
The biggest difference in their design and the design used in helmets being used today actually takes place in the inner lining of the helmets. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Using information from our research, we replaced traditional helmet lining with a foam made of microstructures similar to those found in rams’ horns. Tests show our helmet is three times more likely to reduce concussions than helmets worn today.”
All of that actually seems to make a ton of sense, but one area that doesn’t seem to be addressed in the research is the role that the neck muscles play, and I know a lot of coaches and strength departments that are dedicating significant time to strengthening the necks of their players, so it would be interesting to see where the study and new helmet design stands on the neck’s role.
Head over to the Mississippi State article to read more on the ongoing research to provide football with safer helmets.