Predicting Concussions in Contact Sports using Nanotechnology

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Serious injuries have always been an inherent risk of contact sports. Increased pressure from governing bodies, fans and ultimately the players, has forced teams to make player health a priority. One particular area which has come under close examination in recent years is reducing the risk of concussions caused during heavy impacts. Now, researchers from Brigham Young University (BYU) are using nanotechnology to help prevent long term damage caused by concussions.

Combining Nanotechnology with Foam

Researchers from BYU have been developing a smart material using a combination of nanotechnology and foam. The smart foam can be placed directly into a players helmet and provide real time data on each hit.

When the foam is compressed during a collision it generates an electrical signal which is transmitted wirelessly to a handheld device. This will allow a coach to monitor how hard their players are being hit and make a more informed decision on their ability to play.

A coach will know within seconds exactly how hard their player just got hit. Even if a player pops up and acts fine, the folks on the sidelines will have data showing that maybe he isn’t OK.

Jake Merrell, Brigham Young University

The nano-helmet is made from a smart foam called ExoNanoFoam created using nanoparticles. This is a piezoelectric material, meaning it releases an electrical voltage when compressed.

A micro control sensor built in to the helmet reads the electrical voltage produced by the foam, and sends a signal to the handheld device which interprets the data in a specifically designed software. When the foam is in contact with the head of the player, the measurements are highly accurate compared with the measurements provided using an accelerometer.

Video Courtesy of Brigham Young University 

Mild Brain Injuries and Long-Term Effects

Scientists claim that there is a direct connection between these mild brain injuries and long-term effects such as the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Researchers had suggested robust helmets or the use of bulky accelerometers embedded in the crown of the helmet to limit player concussions. 

However, none of these technologies have provided a successful solution in the prevention of a concussion. 

Making Concussions a Thing of The Past

The nano-helmet has helped the team at Brigham Young University achieve funding from the National Science Foundation as well as a top award at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers conference. The team hopes that in the future the innovative self-sensing foam used in the helmet will be adapted for other areas such as the automotive industry.

The Aviva Rugby Premiership is also trialing a new Pitch Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) process and carefully monitoring concussion match injuries.


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