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Face shields on army helmets could reduce brain injuries


November 23, 2010

A newly-developed computer model indicates that face shields could protect soldiers from traumatic brain injuries caused by explosions (Image: Michelle Nyein)

A newly-developed computer model indicates that face shields could protect soldiers from traumatic brain injuries caused by explosions (Image: Michelle Nyein)

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Over half of all injuries to U.S. troops are due to explosions, and a large percentage of those are head injuries. While helmets offer some protection, explosive pressure waves can be transmitted to soldier’s brains via their unprotected faces. With this in mind, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a computer model to evaluate how useful face shields on army helmets would be in reducing traumatic brain injuries. Their conclusion: shields could save lives.

The research project is being led by Raul Radovitzky, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The model was created using MRI scans of subjects from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and supplemented with data from studies on the effects of mechanical shocks on pigs’ brains. It contains detailed anatomical features such as the sinuses, cerebrospinal fluid and layers of gray and white matter. The model also contains details on the type of modeled explosion, including the variety of explosive, its mass, and proximity to the head.

Radovitzky and his team ran a series of tests with the model, seeing how a soldier’s head would respond to a blast wearing no helmet, a standard Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH), and an ACH with a clear polycarbonate face shield. Although there was little difference between the injuries suffered by an unhelmeted and standard-helmeted soldier, the soldier with the face mask received significantly less stress to their brain.

The researchers have so far only modeled one specific explosion scenario where the blast wave hits from the front, but they plan to add others with differing blast angles and intensities. They will also simulate blast waves to the neck and torso, as it has been suggested that hits to these regions could also cause brain injuries.

In order to speed development of more effective helmets, both for military and civilian use, Radovitzky is releasing the source code for his model to the public as of this week. Interested parties can obtain it by contacting him at tbi-modeling@mit.edu

The research was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

It worked for Darth Vador...

Gabriel Grove

Masks that help soldiers look like robots will make it even easier to win the hearts and minds of the villagers bombed by robot drones, and win America\'s next war in a New York minute. Children will rush to make friends with these lovable invaders.

Shielding the brain is a bonus.


There is a real conundrum with face shields in counterinsurgency operations: part of the strategy in combating insurgents is to establish a human link to locals to get their aid in rooting out the hostiles; a non-removable or fixed face shield yields a kind of Star Wars storm trooper, inhuman look to the wearer, requiring removing the entire helmet to remove the barrier to the personal link, defeating the protective element; while a removable or swing-up shield creates a window of vulnerability. A transparent shield would be preferred, if it can afford a credible level of visibility and still protect.

Pat Kelley

A good step in protection enhancement but more work must be done to integrate head, torso and limb armor. For example, shock waves that impact one area of the body should be mitigated by transfer of energy to other parts of the protection system.

Further, a soldier should have the ability to sweep the area for explosives electronically, determine the location and size of the threat and send his own ordinance (or impulse technology) directly to the target - detonating it in prior to his/their advance on that ground.

In regard to land mines, I would use high-power low-frequency energy to dislodge and expose shallow mines...

I would love to see the looks on the faces of terrorists as their devices explode 2km in front of advancing forces...


@Geometeer Indeed ... I\'m sure I\'ve seen this somewhere before...oh yes .. Darth Vader ...and he really made me feel I was in good hands.

Patrick Frickel

@Muraculous ... like the terrorists are having huge success as it is...don\'t take away the only thing left that they can use to fight the most technologically advanced nation the world has ever seen. I\'d love to see how brave the marines are with just a turban, AK 47 and their God to protect them... oh yes now I remember .... black hawk down...thats how brave.

Patrick Frickel

Too much protection on the head poses a hazard all it\'s own - That of auditory occlusion. If you can\'t hear where the enemy and his rounds are coming from, you tend to take too long to orient yourself in the beginning of a fight, making yourself vulnerable to getting hit and being wounded or killed. All helmets to some extent warp one\'s auditory perception, but the more protective ones are the worst at muffling and covering up warning sounds.

Perhaps another reason why face-masks haven\'t been used, even though their protective value seems moronically obvious.

Timothy Neill

Interesting article - though the associated article snippets at right side of the page are distracting when you realise that some of the pictures don\'t align with their respective subject matter - some swift editing required here, methinks...

Nick Herbert

I liked the movie Robo Cop, but it always struck me that it would be best to shoot him into his brain and spinal cord via his unprotected mouth, than it would be to be aiming at his armor plated body. Still it\'s only a movie.

The Bobby Fat helmet from Star Wars was a functional design. Not exactly military stuff, but it had - as a movie prop, sort of armored windows that followed the eye motion lines, and it was ungay enough to be really butch.

Mr Stiffy

\"Bobby Fat\"... now that\'s funny! (Boba Fett I think is the correct spelling)

I think face shields could be a winner, but it\'s up to the troops to really decide in many ways if its practical. Every shield comes at a price of auditory and visual degradation, and looking more sinister to the populace.

Matt Rings
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