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Listening to Football Helmets

November 20, 2012

Measuring the acoustical signatures of colliding football helmets could help improve helmet safety.



Football helmet collisions.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The sound of two football helmets crashing into each other gives parents the chills, wondering whether their child has sustained a life-threatening concussion. There’s no real standard for safe helmet design, and this may be putting many young players’ noggins at risk. But researchers at the U.S. Naval Academy say a standard could be developed by correlating the severity of a concussion with the acoustical signature of the collision that produced it. Undergraduate Duncan Miller and physicist Murray Korman simulated helmet collisions and recorded the sound vibrations they produced when crashing together.

MURRAY KORMAN (U.S. Naval Academy):


(Sound of helmet collision)

That was pretty loud.

We can say, okay, for this amount of energy going into the system, we see how the helmet vibrates, how the skull vibrates, and then and those numbers will serve as a good model for what might be happening medically.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Laboratory setup to test the acoustical properties of football helmet collisions. These U.S. Naval Academy football helmets were used in the 2011 Army-Navy Game. (Susanne Bard/AAAS)