Research conducted by a student and professor at the University of Alabama (UA) aims to study the sound waves produced by the collision of football helmets, with the goal of better understanding the forces involved in the collisions, potentially paving the way for a cost-effective sensing method to increase the safety of the game.

Working with Steve Shepard, PhD, MS, BME, a UA engineering professor, a university news release says sophomore Brandon McChristian used a special university lab designed to eliminate acoustic reflections, microphones, a high-tech signal analyzer, a couple of helmets borrowed from the athletic department, and string to prove a direct correlation between sound energy and helmet impact energy.

The release notes that Shepard also recently incorporated data from McChristian’s proof-of-concept research into a grant funding proposal to the National Science Foundation. The university has already filed a patent application on the technology, and if addition research funding is secured, Shepard notes he hopes to further develop methods of assessing helmet impact severity using sound.

McChristian was reportedly slated among 700 other students to present research findings April 7 at UA’s annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference at the Bryant Conference Center.

The release says McChristian conducted the research as part of the Emerging Scholars program at UA.

In the release, McChristian emphasizes how the project has helped him, “when it comes to applying my coursework to the practicality of a research setting. Seeing the research process from initial setup to data gathering and, eventually, processing has been invaluable.”

Shepard points out that the novelty of the research approach is that sensors do not have to be mounted directly on a player’s helmet. As an alternative, sound measurements on the sideline could prove to be cost-effective, with hardware that may offer easier maintenance, Shepard adds.

The release reports that working with Shepard in the university’s hemi-anechoic chamber, a research lab isolated from external sounds, McChristian used a pendulum-type experiment to create and measure sound waves radiating from controlled helmet collisions.

With two helmets suspended in the chamber using string, the release says a controlled collision is created by swinging one helmet from a known height and allowing it to collide with another helmet.

Two nearby microphones attached to a dynamic signal analyzer are then used to record the sound waves resulting from collision.

According to the release, using the data and careful calculations, McChristian proved that the sound waves’ energy directly correlated to the helmet impact energy.

Shepard explains that while most individuals watching a football game on television would not see this result as surprising, “the result is a vital first step in the process in order to demonstrate to funding agencies the validity of a technique using sound.”

Shepard is also seeking additional funding to study more advanced techniques in collision assessment using sound.

Shepard notes that while the project is in its early stages, it appears promising.

“There are still lots of questions to answer, but the idea is certainly feasible, based on previous research and Brandon’s results,” Shepard says.

[Source(s): Newswise, University of Alabama]