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It is increasingly clear that concussion or mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) can lead to significant, life-long impairment affecting an individual’s ability to function physically, cognitively, and psychologically. The number of injuries occurring is astonishing – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually in the United States, 75 percent of which are concussions or other forms of mTBI.
Our core mission in the memorial of Wendy Moore is to understand the causes and mechanisms of Traumatic Brain Injury in an effort to establish methods of prevention. There are several Team Wendy initiatives working towards this ultimate goal.
Protective helmets must mitigate a wide range of impact forces, from low energy “sub-concussive” bumps against equipment inside of vehicles, to more serious falls and collisions, and extending to extremely high energy blast and ballistic threats.
The long-established method for determining a helmet’s blunt impact protective ability is to test it using a uniaxial drop tower. Having this capability in-house allows us to quickly develop and optimize materials and helmet designs, as well as maintain a world-class quality standard for our aftermarket liner systems.
However, when impacts occur in the real world the head can undergo complex non-linear motions that are not well replicated by the long established impact test methods. Angular or rotational movement in particular is increasingly known to play a role in brain tissue strain leading to TBI. By considering such events we may be able to uncover the keys to improve a helmet’s ability to mitigate concussion.
While there is currently no well-established rotational impact testing methodology or injury threshold, we have completed internal and independent testing to understand how helmet and liner designs can mitigate against rotational accelerations. This includes testing in the development of TPU energy management structures and their adaptation to both ground combat and air crew helmets. We continue our work towards improving the understanding of impact biomechanics and the mechanism of concussion, driving towards improved testing methods with the ultimate goal of more protective helmets.
Ballistic threats present an entirely different energy mitigation challenge when compared to blunt impact protection. Team Wendy has been involved in several R&D efforts to design and adapt novel helmet liner materials to ballistic helmets and understand how they can be optimized to limit trauma. Through an ongoing USSOCOM BAA funded research effort we are continuing to refine padding materials that minimize force transfer to the skull, dealing with kinetic energy levels that could previously be mitigated only by the hard outer-shell of the helmet.
In addition to the ballistic and blunt impact threats that combat helmets are designed to protect against, there is another danger: shockwaves emanating from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), breaching devices, and other blasts.
The propagation of the shock front itself (a phenomenon classified as “Primary” blast injury) may be a contributor to brain injury. In support of research to understand the issue of Primary blast-related brain injury, we have conducted live blast testing with a comparison of prototypical instrumented headforms, conducted shock tube testing on helmet liner materials as part of an Army SBIR, and moderated a panel discussion on the issue with the topic’s leading experts.
Team Wendy manufactures an array of open-cell polyurethane foams designed specifically for impact mitigation and energy absorption. Custom formulated by Team Wendy engineers and chemists, each material can be developed in a wide range of stiffness and density with varying viscoelastic material properties.
In addition to our patented foam technologies, we have explored the capabilities of molded geometric structures to mitigate impact forces and manage acceleration by bending and buckling under compression – effectively acting like the crumple zone in a vehicle. This newly patented approach allows the impact response to be fine-tuned through both part geometry and material selection, providing unique stress-strain responses not achievable with traditional, uniform structure foams.