Wales

NFL concussions: Cardiff Uni to develop helmet padding

NFL players Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Helmets have to withstand soft and hard collisions during American football games

Researchers in Cardiff could help make American football safer for NFL players after winning a competition to develop helmet padding.

The NFL - the USA's American football league - runs HeadHealthTech Challenge, which funds research into improving safety and reducing concussion.

The Cardiff University researchers received about £90,000, becoming the first non-US team to win the award.

They are developing an elastic material with high energy absorbency called C3.

The material is designed to stiffen as any collision force increases.

Dr Peter Theobald, senior lecturer at the university's school of engineering, is one of the project leaders.

He said traditional American football helmets ran out of capacity to absorb energy, but this material absorbed more energy as the collision energy rose.

"The best analogy we can give is what we are in is the packaging industry. We happen to be packaging the head and the brain," he said.

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Media captionSports headgear: What is concussion and can you stop it?

He compared the challenges facing helmets to a new TV being delivered in a foam-packaged box, saying if the TV was dropped while being delivered, the foam would prevent the screen from cracking.

However, if it was being rattled around in the box as it was shuffled across the floor or dropped from a very low height, the packaging would not provide protection as it was too stiff.

He told BBC Wales: "Not only do the helmets need to protect against high-energy forces, they also need to start needing to protect against low energy forces, so when we're drawing a comparison to our TV, when we drop that from a low height in its box we need a helmet protecting the head at relatively low energy collisions.

"The problem with American football at the minute is the helmets are tailored towards the high-energy impacts but not the low-impact ones."

'Scaffolding'

The manufacturing technique uses 3D printing to produce the material.

"If you were to look into the material, you would see a lot of empty space, like scaffolding around a building," Dr Theobald said.

The team has previously received money to work on developing C3 from the NFL via one of its American-based partners, but this is the first time they or any other non-US team has directly won money from one of the NFL's research competitions.

The team will use the grant money to devise a way to curve the material to fit inside a helmet.

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