Professor Leslie Lamberson is part of a multi-organization collaboration that will study traumatic brain injury (TBI) in soldiers with an award from the Office of Naval Research.

The project team includes investigators from Colorado School of Mines, The University of Wisconsin- Madison (lead), Brown University, Robert Morris University, The University of Southern California and Team Wendy (industry leaders in the design and development of innovative head protection). The team is part of the PANTHER Program (Physics-bAsed Neutralization of Threats to Human tissuEs and oRgans), an interdisciplinary research hub focused on the understanding, detection and prevention of TBI.

Lamberson explained that the first goal of the project is to understand and predict the onset of TBI at the cellular level. While models have been developed to simulate TBI and to estimate the force of blunt or blast impact on the brain, little is known about the magnitude and direction of forces at the cellular level that initiate TBI. Without this critical knowledge, protective equipment such as helmets cannot be adequately designed or tested.

The second goal is to develop a sensing system embedded in helmet liners that measures the impact kinematics of the head (not the helmet or liner). The sensing system will be designed for use in existing helmets or in future combat helmet liners.

Finally, the team will develop a quantitative engineering framework to determine the ability of the helmet-liner system to prevent or significantly mitigate TBI.

“This is where Mines comes in,” Lamberson said. “Our role in the project is to examine current and next-generation military helmet liner materials under various impact loading scenarios.” With these experiments, she and Stylianos Koumlis, a research assistant professor in mechanical engineering, will be able to characterize and understand the protective properties of these materials and their potential to mitigate TBI.

Lamberson and Koumlis will receive approximately $750,000 of the $10 million award over a period of three years. “Our Mines team is extremely honored to be part of a team that’s developing next-generation improved-protection materials. It’s very satisfying to know that what we are doing in the lab will directly improve the lives of our soldiers and citizens,” Lamberson said.

“This is a true cradle-to-grave project, as our interdisciplinary team includes experts at the neural tissue level in medical sciences all the way to an industry partner that manufacturers and certifies the current Advanced Combat Helmet for the military,” Lamberson added. “That’s what it takes to be successful on an endeavor as large as PANTHER.”

Dr. Leslie Lamberson is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Extreme Materials and Structures (XSTRM) Lab. Her research focuses on mechanics of materials under extreme conditions, impact physics, dynamic fracture and full-field metrology techniques.