The Virginia Tech Department of Athletics and the Department of Engineering have been working together on ground breaking research in the field of football equipment safety and awareness.
The athletic and engineering departments have collaborated on a study of football helmets and their ability to prevent concussions in athletes, resulting in the first ever safety rating system for football helmets and concussion prevention.
The program began a few years ago, when Stefan Duma of the engineering department began working with Steve Rowson, a then Tech Ph.D. engineering student, who participated in the project as part of his dissertation on a study of head acceleration experienced by college football players.
“It started with looking at head acceleration experienced by college football players, and we collected many years of data that, once we had enough data, we understood how players get hit on the football field,” Rowson said. “So we had the idea for applying this knowledge in a setting where we could evaluate helmets and how different helmet designs might reduce concussion risk.”
The research began when Duma and Rowson began studying the head acceleration impact in different types of helmets in a lab setting to measure a helmet’s ability to reduce head trauma and injury.
To measure head acceleration, the engineers fashioned head forms for helmets to be placed on and dropped them onto different types of material at different heights, forming varying configurations that create impact conditions similar to those regularly found during football games.
The team also installed sensors in football players’ helmets to measure the force that players were receiving during football practices and games.
The study also discovered that some positions played on the football field were more conducive to head injury than others.
After years of collecting data, the engineering team created a formula to make the results of the study easy for consumers to understand.
“We took all the test results from the experiments we performed, and we condensed them to a single value – the stars represent that, so it’s easily understood by the general public,” Rowson said.
The new safety rankings are publicly available on the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Science’s website.
Researchers involved with the project tell consumers to use helmets with a four- or five-star rating, while also taking factors such as helmet shape and size into account.
“It’s a combination of both (helmet ratings and fit) – we recommend any of the four- or five-star helmets,” Rowson said. “All the four- and five-star helmets did a very good job of reducing head acceleration and impact. Which one a consumer chooses from that group is going to depend on a number of factors, and one of those is helmet fit.”
Gunnar Brolinson, a team physician for the Tech football team, also agrees that choosing a highly-ranked helmet improves safety.
“You substantially lower the risk of concussion when you look at the best helmets versus the worst helmets,” Brolinson said. “You probably reduce the risk by one-half to two-thirds.”
The project has generated awareness for sporting equipment safely, and Tech has received much acclaim for its innovative ranking system.
Many teams in the football industry at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels have used the ranking system to determine the best helmets to use for their players.