Highway Safety Expert Turns His Attention to the Gridiron
In a lab just off the racetrack at Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park, one of America’s foremost highway-safety experts is testing a new solution to football’s concussion problem: crash-test dummies. They’re the centerpiece of an effort by UAB’s Dean Sicking, Ph.D., inventor of a host of roadside protection devices and the SAFER barrier widely used in motorsports, to make football helmets safer as well.
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Researchers across the country are trying to solve football’s brain-injury issues. Most are putting sensors such as accelerometers into existing helmets so coaches and medical staff receive early warnings of possible concussions. Sicking is taking a different approach. His plan is to improve the helmets themselves — starting with the testing process that allows them to reach players.
“Football helmets are designed to prevent skull fractures,” said Sicking, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the UAB School of Engineering. That’s why the official testing standard, overseen by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), involves dropping a helmet onto a metal platform topped with a hard rubber pad. “The problem is, football’s problem isn’t skull fractures,” Sicking said. “It’s concussions.”
Sicking, drawing on his experience in automotive safety, has created a unique testing facility to re-create football impacts and evaluate helmet performance. At its heart is an 80-foot railed track, with two dummies, dressed in football uniforms, facing each other on opposite ends. One dummy is fixed on a stage; the other races toward it on a moving sled. When they meet, the impact often makes observers flinch. “Some of these hits take your breath away,” said Blake Feltman, a research engineer working under Sicking on the project.
Birmingham Zoo veterinarians approached researchers from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering to help them stop a crack from growing in their oldest elephant’s tusk, the engineers saw an opportunity to use their expertise to improve the industry standard for the repair process.When
Cracks in elephants’ tusks have historically been repaired by adhering a metal ring to the tusk in order to stabilize the crack and prevent it from growing any farther up the tusk.
The Zoo asked Brian Pillay, Ph.D., the director of the Materials Processing and Applications Development Center (MPAD), to do just that for Bulwagi, a 35-year-old male African elephant in their care.
And even though pachyderm problems aren't Pillay’s usual charge, his immediate response was to innovate the process and apply some of the science the lab uses in other materials processes to create a new, more robust and seamless treatment for the crack.
“When the team at the Zoo asked me to create this metal ring, I thought, ‘we can do better,’” Pillay said. “We can use what we know about materials development to make something that will work better for the elephant.”
“This is something that’s bridging the gap between what Dr. Pillay’s lab does working with industrial settings and what we do working with a biologic situation,” said Richard Sim, DVM, associate veterinarian at the Zoo. “It’s a first of its kind in that way—combining engineering that would normally be used in structures like bridges and applying it to an elephant.”
UAB Joins NSF's Regional Innovation Ecosystem
The School of Engineering’s Big Data Research and Analytics Lab, along with the UAB Department of Neurology and UAB IT Research Computing, will be part of a national effort to develop a Big Data Regional Innovation Hub serving 16 Southern states and the District of Columbia.
The South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub (South BD Hub)—to be managed jointly by Georgia Tech and the University of North Carolina—is part of the National Science Foundation’s four Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs (BD Hubs) announced this week. The new initiative aims to build innovative public-private partnerships that address regional challenges through big data analysis.
“The award of the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub to Georgia Tech and UNC-Chapel Hill provides the right context for collaboration among 116 stakeholders in academia, industry and the nonprofit sectors, which will allow us to—for the first time—address large-scale challenges facing many Southern states,” said Srinivas Aluru, co-Principal Investigator at Georgia Tech and professor in the School of Computational Science and Engineering.
Each of the NSF BD Hubs will engage businesses and research organizations in their region to develop common big data goals that would be impossible for individual members to achieve alone. The Hubs will develop community-driven governance structures as well as “spoke projects” based on regional priorities and partnerships.
“Big data analysis is changing the way we see the world and is one of the more profound developments in science that we’ve seen in our lifetime,” said Iwan Alexander, Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Engineering. “At UAB, we are uniquely positioned because of the wide range of expertise here in areas from engineering to medicine to business. Our Big Data Research and Analytics Lab has the potential to touch every part of campus, and as such, it can provide valuable input to this national network.”
The UAB Construction Engineering Management Program recently was rated third in the nation, according to AffordableCollegesOnline.org (AC Online) in its third annual ranking for the 2015-2016 Best Online Construction Management Programs.
"I have always known we are very price competitive, but more important than that to me is my personal conviction that the content of our curriculum and the way we deliver is the best out there," said CEM Director Wilbur "Bill" Hitchcock, Ph.D. "We are diligently working to expand our program and this ranking validates the work we're doing to provide quality education and training at an affordable price."
Assistant Director Dianne Gilmer added, "In addition to quality education and training at an affordable price, we offer exceptional customer care and attention coupled with relevant real world information. Our program content is extremely meaningful in the global economy."