Stu­dent researchers at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity have devel­oped the tech­nology for a helmet that could mea­sure the severity of head injuries suf­fered by fallen skiers or snow­boarders and alert first respon­ders to the sig­nif­i­cance of the damage.

The device was devel­oped for a senior cap­stone project under the direc­tion of mechan­ical and indus­trial engi­neering asso­ciate pro­fessor Sinan Muftu. The team mem­bers included Cyril Blank, Matthew Jamula, Diego Nevado, Ross Parker and Tadas Vaisvila.

With the high fre­quency of trau­matic brain injuries to ath­letes and sol­diers on the bat­tle­field, “there is def­i­nitely a need for these type of prod­ucts,” said Vaisvila, who grad­u­ated in the spring with a degree in mechan­ical engineering.

Noting the seem­ingly minor ski acci­dent that caused the death of actress Natasha Richardson in 2009, he added, “Our research found that there are a lot of less severe head injuries that, when untreated, can actu­ally be worse than really bad concussions.”

After meeting with emer­gency med­ical tech­ni­cians and X-​​ray spe­cial­ists, team mem­bers designed a pro­to­type of the head impact detec­tion and alert system. The device included sen­sors for mea­suring accel­er­a­tion rel­a­tive to a freefall and an LCD screen that used a series of colors to indi­cate the level of impact.

The color green, for example, cor­re­sponded to a mild impact, whereas the color red indi­cated a severe impact and likely a life-​​threatening head injury.

Team mem­bers also tested the helmet’s ability to mea­sure the severity of head injuries against com­puter models, finding a “good cor­re­la­tion” between the two, said Muftu.

To pre­pare for the test, they built a pro­to­type of a human skull using plastic and mod­eled the brain using a water-​​filled sack. Then, they placed the helmet on the plastic head, dropped it from a variety of heights and mea­sured the rate of acceleration.

Over the course of the semester, the stu­dents learned a number of valu­able engi­neering lessons, such as how to model dynamic impact using state of the art analysis tools, and how to inter­pret levels of accel­er­a­tion based on bio­engi­neering knowl­edge, said Muftu.

He and Dr. Alex Roten­berg, a col­league at Children’s Hos­pital Boston, are cur­rently plan­ning a more in-​​depth explo­ration of trau­matic brain injuries, which will include building sim­u­la­tions of blunt force trauma to the head.