CLEMSON — A team of Clemson University researchers and an Upstate businessman believe they can help make football a little safer by creating a facemask that can help reduce the severity of head injuries by increasing overall helmet protection.
The researchers are Gregory Batt, an assistant professor in the Clemson food, nutrition and packaging sciences department; John DesJardins, an associate professor of bioengineering and director of the Laboratory of Orthopaedic Design and Engineering; and Alex Bina, a doctoral student in bioengineering who also is a graduate research assistant in food, nutrition and packaging sciences. They are teaming up with Jay Elmore, owner of Green Gridiron to determine how future designs of facemasks can help improve the overall safety of football helmets. The team has received a nearly $50,000 grant from the Robert H. Brooks Sports Science Institute for their study “Quantifying the Impact Performance of Football Helmet Facemasks.”
“What we’re working on is trying to understand and evaluate the role a football helmet facemask plays in the overall impact performance of a football helmet system,” Bina said. “We’re doing this by evaluating the mechanisms by which forces are transmitted from the facemask through the rest of the helmet system upon impact.”
Impact forces on face masks
The forces Bina refers to are g-forces, which result from accelerations experienced by the head during impact. Bina and the rest of the team are working to make helmets more safe by creating a facemask that can help the helmet transfer g-forces away from the head. Traditional helmet design produces protective equipment that gradually decelerates the head upon impact. Facemasks are to prevent direct contact with players’ faces.
“Ideally, facemasks would deform slightly in order to produce gradual head deceleration, but not so much so as to put players at risk of injuring their faces,” Bina said. “However, the deformation properties of existing facemask designs are not available, making it impossible for doctors. trainers and parents to make informed decisions when purchasing a facemask for their helmet system. The first step in our facemask impact performance experimentation is to generate a ranking system of existing facemask designs based on their ability to deform.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, head injuries can occur when there is rapid change in the movement of the head, such as when a football player is tackled. Any significant force can have a detrimental effect on brain tissue. Batt said there are many different situations on a football field that cause rapid changes in velocity, or g-forces.
“These situations can be player-to-player or player-to-turf interactions,” Batt said. “These rapid changes in velocity can cause the player’s brain to move around and smash against the player’s skull. This trauma can result in a brain injury.”
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