Physics makes a big impact in brain-injury research

Apr 02, 2013

From battlefields to playing fields, worries over traumatic brain injury (TBI) have intensified recently as it has become clear that heavy knocks to the head – whether from bomb detonations or crunching sports tackles – can have serious long-term consequences.

In this month's issue of Physics World, Sidney Perkowitz, Candler Professor of Physics Emeritus at Emory University in the US, explains how the physics of these events is being recreated to shed light on this problem.

American football is probably the most high-profile sport where the issue of TBI has become prominent – driven in no small part by the suicides of ex-players suffering from diminished memory and emotional volatility, and the nearly 4000 brought against the NFL, the sport's governing body.

Post-mortem examinations have shown that the brains of football players, as well as military veterans, show signs of the degenerative condition (CTE) – a disease characterized by dark clumps of abnormal among the brain's neurons that has similar outcomes to Alzheimer's.

To diagnose, treat and prevent conditions such as CTE, researchers are using physics to figure out the types of impact, as well as the intensities, that are likely to cause brain damage.

Perkowitz highlights results from a range of studies that have helped researchers start to understand the nature of impacts in football games and the actual damage the impacts cause. Studies include data from mid-game measurements on the acceleration of the heads of American football players and the effect of small explosions, undertaken in a , on the brains of mice.

This research has been complemented by designed to recreate the impact of blast conditions on the human brain.

The findings from all of these different trials are helping to uncover the exact mechanisms that cause TBI and, potentially, how helmets can be designed to better protect soldiers and athletes.

With many questions still to be answered, Perkowitz stresses the need for physicists to continue researching this area.

He writes, "Among the reasons to continue studying TBI and CTE are the serious policy issues they raise. These include whether young people, many of whom participate as amateurs and whose brains are especially vulnerable, should play contact sports."

Explore further: IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

First former college football player diagnosed with CTE

Oct 22, 2009

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) announced today that a deceased former college football player who died at age 42 was already suffering from the degenerative ...

Recommended for you

Chemist develops X-ray vision for quality assurance

15 minutes ago

It is seldom sufficient to read the declaration of contents if you need to know precisely what substances a product contains. In fact, to do this you need to be a highly skilled chemist or to have genuine ...

The future of ultrashort laser pulses

24 minutes ago

Rapid advances in techniques for the creation of ultra-short laser pulses promise to boost our knowledge of electron motions to an unprecedented level.

IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

17 hours ago

Who will lay claim to having the world's largest particle smasher?. Could China become the collider capital of the world? Questions tease answers, following a news story in Nature on Tuesday. Proposals for ...

The physics of lead guitar playing

19 hours ago

String bends, tapping, vibrato and whammy bars are all techniques that add to the distinctiveness of a lead guitarist's sound, whether it's Clapton, Hendrix, or BB King.

The birth of topological spintronics

20 hours ago

The discovery of a new material combination that could lead to a more efficient approach to computer memory and logic will be described in the journal Nature on July 24, 2014. The research, led by Penn S ...

User comments : 0