Football helmets are under attack from more than just opposing players on the field. Every season environmental factors wear on a helmet, potentially compromising its ability to protect the player.
“Helmets are exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun, hot and cold temperatures, rain and humidity, as well as chemicals from paints, cleaners, and decal stickers,” said Dave Krzeminski, a doctoral student in The University of Southern Mississippi’s Sports and High Performance Materials Program. “All of these can wear down the helmet year after year.”
Krzeminski is exploring the effects of exposure to weathering on the materials comprising a helmet’s outer shell. He collaborated with Dr. Dilhan Fernando, a post-doctoral research fellow in the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, Drs. Trent Gould and Scott Piland, associate professors in the School of Human Performance and Recreation, and Dr. James Rawlins, associate professor in the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials.
“In the effort to better protect athletes from the brain injury of concussion, we must gain a better understanding of the things which may negatively influence the performance of materials we commonly utilize in the creation of sporting goods products,” said Piland.
Using a laboratory setup to accelerate outdoor weathering exposure, helmet outer shell material underwent a cyclical process to replicate repeated daily exposure of a hot, humid day and a cool, damp night. Analysis of the exposed material demonstrated that chemical destruction at the molecular-level can lead to a loss in performance at the large-scale, material level. The degraded outer shell material was then tested for changes in impact performance using an impact testing setup designed and engineered at Southern Miss. Once this setup is finalized, helmet materials could be tested under in-game conditions before being used on the field.
Krzeminski’s research findings are published online by the international Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology, and will be included in the fall 2014 print edition.
“This research is the first step to establishing diagnostic tools that could evaluate differences in performance of each individual football helmet outer shell,” said Krzeminski. “These tools also have potential to someday be used in the locker room to monitor the helmet material changes throughout a season.”
“A football helmet can be used for up to 10 years and little is known about how well any given helmet maintains its ability to manage blunt force after years of basic use,” said Piland. “This manuscript marks one of the very first studies to engage this line of questioning.”