Innovative Materials to Enhance Head Protection in Contact Sports by Peter Theobald

Newport & District Materials Society
2 Feb 2017

Prevention of head injuries in contact sports is a topical subject and on Tuesday 24th January Dr Peter Theobald gave an account of work in progress at Cardiff University.  American football teams are especially concerned since former players are increasingly seeking compensation for injuries sustained during playing careers.  As a consequence, in 2014, the NFL formulated three Head Health Challenges and invited interested parties to apply for funding. Cardiff University in association with Charles Owen Inc proposed to develop innovative materials for use in helmets in response to Challenge III.  A total of 125 applicant were successively reduced to 21 and then to 5 with a final choice expected within a month or so.  Whilst helmets currently in use give good protection against single, high-energy impacts they are less effective in dealing with the cumulative effects of repeated low-energy impacts and the work at Cardiff seeks to solve this problem.  Use is made of 3D printing in which a layered polymer-based powder is fused into a specific shape by a laser.  Specifically, a cellular structure with a stacked origami-like design is used to optimise energy absorption. The essential building block of the material is a double corrugated sheet with the ability to fold efficiently.  Good progress has been made in using finite element analysis to model the material's ability to meet NFL's specified requirements in respect of its mechanical properties.  The importance of the modelling work is that, if successful, it should permit the design of helmets to meet the needs of players of differing physiques i.e.,customised manufacture of helmets.

Dr Theobald answered a number of questions and left with the good wishes of the audience for success in the final selection process.