CU Research Tackles Face Masks

Goal to improve safety

South Carolina Radio Network
January 23, 2019 - 11:22 am

© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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JANUARY 23, 2019 BY RENEE SEXTON (South Carolina Radio Network)

A research team in Clemson is studying how the face mask on a football helmet affects the helmet’s effectiveness for head protection.

Gregory Batt, John DesJardins, Alex Bina, Davis Ferriel and Jay Elmore are studying how future designs of face masks can help improve the overall safety of football helmets. They are combining the fields of packaging science and bioengineering to study the impact performance of helmet systems.

Bina said the team got the idea for the research while talking to an Upstate company that reconditions face masks. They want to know if helmets performed differently based on the design of the face mask.

First the group had to develop a method to test the face mask. Bina said tests commonly used by the National Operating Committee for the Standards of Athletic Equipment was not sensitive enough to test the geometry or material of the face mask.

“Is there a metric we can use to quantify differences in face mask performance?” he said. “Ultimately, quantify the role the face mask plays in the overall performance of the helmet system.”

“Everyone kind of works under the theory that the higher an impact acceleration is the higher the risk for head injury so the goal overall for protective equipment is to lower that head impact acceleration,” Bina said.

Researchers worked with area high school football teams and the equipment manager for the Clemson football team.

“What we’re doing is trying to form a connection between the face mask stiffness and the acceleration response a head would experience using that face mask,” he said. “Understanding the connection between stiffness and helmet performance.”

The researchers received a grant from the Robert H. Brooks Sports Science Institute worth nearly $50,000 for their study “Quantifying the Impact Performance of Football Helmet Facemasks.”

“Our research involves establishing a testing system that differentiates between facemask performance and helmet performance,” he said.

Bina said he passed on his findings to another Clemson graduate student who is evaluating the data. Bina and the research team plan future investigation on the materials used for the face mask.

“What we’ve seen is the stiffness of the mask is going to be more related to the material used than the geometry of the mask,” he said.

“The goal is to create a very quick evaluation for face masks that is non-destructive so you can test the mask and go use it and continue to test it as its being used,” he said.

Bina said in order to do so, players, coaches, equipment managers, parents and equipment manufacturers have to be involved in the process.

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