Assistant Professor Matt Panzer and Professor Richard Kent from UVA MAE's Center for Applied Biomechanics (CAB) are part of a team that developed open-source finite element (FE) models of four modern football helmets. They are part of the NFL's Engineering Roadmap to improve injury prevention. FE models are computational tools developed by breaking an object down into simpler parts (finite elements) and assembling them into a larger system of equations to model an entire structure—this facilitates the efficient analysis of design changes to that structure. FE models have been used to improve designs in many engineered products, including those in the aeronautics and automotive industries. The FE models of football helmets will be available to the public as a platform and baseline resource for injury prevention research and to stimulate the development of novel and highly effective helmet designs and prototypes.

Using the latest knowledge of concussion mechanisms, collaborators developed technical specifications and experimental validation data for these four different modern football helmets. The computational models are designed to help predict how a product will react to real-world forces such as a helmet-to-helmet impact, helmet-to-ground impact or helmet-to-shoulder impact. The models were created as one way to enable improvements in the safety of protective equipment in football. They are also part of an effort to build bridges between innovators creating products and experts doing leading biomechanical research on concussion prevention. The models will be publically available online to manufacturers, designers, innovators, entrepreneurs, universities, and others working to develop effective, novel helmet designs to enhance athlete health and safety.

On April 18 at 11 a.m. EST, Dr.Kent will share a new toolkit in a webinar for engineers and entrepreneurs that aims to encourage innovation and advance designs of new and improved protective sports equipment. The toolkit includes finite element models of modern football helmets, impact test dummy components, and test conditions simulating on-field impacts. Dr. Kent will also summarize the findings of a comprehensive video review of concussion-causing player impacts over the last three NFL seasons.