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Friday, Jan. 21, 2011

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Professor contributes to helmet research BEN WARWICK sports@uncmirror.com

It is no secret that football players take a beating on the field. A main issue in all levels of football this past season has been head safety and concussion prevention. One UNC professor is doing something about that.

Intel, in collaboration with Riddell helmet manufacturer, has announced that Igor Szczyrba, a mathematical sciences professor at the University of Northern Colorado, has been selected to a team of college faculty members working to create a way to diagnose brain trauma the instant it happens. Their solution comes in the

FILE PHOTO | THE MIRROR

Football helmets used by the UNC football team that are specifically designed to prevent concussions. Igor Szczyrba is helping develop a chip that instantly transfers data to team doctors.

form of a c h i p embedded in the helmet that will transmit data to team doctors. The final result, Igor Szczyrba ideally, will said the special give train- helmets are only ers valuable used in the NFL data with for the time being. hopes to pinpoint the location of brain trauma to devise better treatments. Szczyrba said he was interested in helmet safety before Intel approached him about researching alternative safety measures. “It was just like a natural step,” he said. “We do this modeling of how the brain behaves in traumatic situations, and then you think, ‘What can be a remedy to help?’” He also said if the industry can be convinced to change their design even slightly, results could be very different. “In helmets, you can get very

precise data,” Szczyrba said. “In the beginning, it was theoretical. Now, it’s not done, but it’s doable; now, you can really check whether or not the guy has the potential to be injured.” According to a USA Today article in 2009, the NFL reports about 175 concussions each season, which is about one for every other game, including the preseason and postseason. Szczyrba is working with his son, Rafal, who owns his own software development company. He is also working with Martin Burtscher, a professor at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Burtscher is a colleague with whom Szczyrba

Now, it’s not done, but it’s doable; now, you can really check whether or not the guy has the potential to be injured. — UNC mathematical sciences professor Igor Szczyrba

has published many papers. If successful, the sensors in the helmet can be applied to other sports in an attempt to diagnose brain trauma. From skiing to hockey to cycling to boxing, Szczyrba said there is no sport that would not be able to benefit from this technology. Szczyrba, an avid follower of the Broncos and the CU Buffs, previously worked at Boise State University and gave guest lectures at Purdue University, which he said were his first experiences with football. “My first encounter with football was really when I was here visiting in the 60s and then the 70s at Purdue,” said Szczyrba, who also keeps up with Boise State’s recent successes. Right now, the special helmets are being used only in the NFL and are strictly voluntary. The ultimate goal of this project over time, Szczyrba said, is to have all players use these sensors to prevent severe head injuries. “You can’t eliminate from the game the danger,” he said. “Our hope is that it will give us better understanding.”

Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 e-Mirror  

This is the electronic edion of the Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 Mirror.