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Material for preventing brain injuries gets NFL backing

22 December 2015

Novel 3D-printed material developed by Cardiff University researchers receives funding in a US National Football League (NFL) supported 'Head Health Challenge'.

The C3 3D printed material developed by researchers at Cardiff University

Funding has been awarded to leading, US-based helmet designer and manufacturer, Roy Burek of Charles Owen Inc., to develop a novel material created by researchers from Cardiff University’s School of Engineering that can improve the safety of athletes, members of the military and others from brain injuries by better absorbing and dissipating impact.  

The funding has been awarded by a partnership of the NFL, Under Armour, GE, and the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to support the discovery, design and deployment of advanced materials.

Charles Owen Inc. and Cardiff University will use the prize money to fund a 12-month project that will use state-of-the-art 3D printing and high-performance computing technology to develop the energy-absorbing material further.

The team is among four winners to secure an initial $250,000 (£165,000) as part of 'Head Health Challenge III', an open innovation competition to advance their work in developing these materials.

The multi-layered, elastic material, called C3, has been developed in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. It can be precisely designed using mathematical modelling and tested using high-performance computers to enable it to be ultimately tailored for specific impact scenarios.

Throughout the year, researchers from the School of Engineering at Cardiff will work closely with Charles Owen, Inc., to fine tune the material and test its robustness against a number of different impact scenarios.

“My grandfather, Charles Owen, started making helmets to protect the British soldiers in 1911 before moving onto motorcycle helmets in 1925, and then equestrian helmets (particularly jockey helmets) in 1938," says Roy Burek, President & CEO of Charles Owen, Inc. “This long and illustrious record in manufacturing innovative products that increase head safety has kept the brand at the centre of helmet development for over 100 years.

"It has only been in the past 15 years that our knowledge of how the brain is injured and how to best protect it has dramatically changed along with the design and manufacture of helmets. I am thrilled to be part of a project that pushes the development of totally new protective technologies and materials so that we can better prevent brain injuries in multiple areas.”

“Head injury prevention strategies have remained relatively stagnant versus the evolution of other technologies," says Dr Peter Theobald, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University and project leader.  "Our trans-Atlantic collaboration with Charles Owen Inc. has enabled us to pool our highly relevant skills and expertise in injury prevention, mechanics, manufacturing and commercialisation.

“This approach has already enabled us to develop C3 which shows great promise to better absorb the vertical and horizontal components of an oblique impact.  This highly prestigious award provides us with a platform to continue developing C3 towards our ultimate goal of achieving a material that provides a step-change in head health and protection, whilst achieving metrics that ensure commercial viability.”

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