USM helmet research combines human performance, polymer science

When Mississippi enacted the Youth Concussion Law, it set policies for removing student athletes from games if a concussion is suspected. Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi have collaborated to create high performance head protection materials, by combining human performance with polymer science.

In recent years, much attention has been placed on head protection for athletes of all ages as a way of reducing concussions. It's an injury experts say is difficult to conclusively diagnose.

"There's no direct measure of the injury, no clear biological markers," explained Dr. Scott Piland. "So there's no way right now to provide an accurate assessment of the injury because it's transitory and takes place over time."

Dr. Piland is Asst. Director of USM's School of Human Performance and Recreation. Researchers there are working with the School of Polymers & High Performance Materials to provide a multi-faced approach to studying head protection technology.

"When the polymer touches the human being, we now have a human – material interface and that is a brand new discipline. It's undiscovered country," said Dr. Trent Gould, Assoc. Dean of College of Health & HPR Professor.

After extensive collaboration, spanning over a decade, their work is paying off. It's led to the development of a helmet with temperature-resistant cushioning material, which is now being used by numerous pro and college athletes.

"We have the ability now to understand exactly what the protective head gear system is responsible for doing and change the outcome of the injury on the human being," Dr. Piland said.

And while the materials are providing better head protection, researchers are dedicated to making more discoveries in the years to come, all with the goal of better protecting athletes in the future.

"That way we can actually serve to protect the athletes in the state of Mississippi and even beyond by knowing a little bit more about this injury and how to prevent it.

[Story contributed by Layla Essary/USM]

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