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Concussions & Horns

November 14, 2014

The horns of male bighorn sheep protect their heads; could the NFL learn from them?



USGS_ovis_canadensis_GNP_bighorn_rams Kim Keating, USGS photo

Could bighorn sheep inspire better football helmets? (Kim Keating/USGS)

Tackling football concussions head-on. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Concussions have been plaguing football and materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez says that bighorn sheep could inspire solutions.

AINNISSA RAMIREZ (Author and former Yale materials scientist):

The horns are made out of a protein called keratin. Keratin is a very spongy, elastic kind of material and it absorbs some of the force.


She says it also spreads the impact out over time.


When a collision happens, the horns give a little bit and so that increases the time of impact, so the force that’s translated through the horns, through the head to the brain reduces.


If we decided to have football players with helmets with horns, there would be total buy-in, and if they said it’s also going to prevent concussions, then I think we’ve got a win-win.



I wouldn’t say to add the horns, but what we are saying is adopt some of the materials that would be in keratin into the helmet.


Ramirez is author of the sports science book Newton’s Football. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.