Helmet research top of mind for CFI funding

High-speed camera system to test impacts one of eight UAlberta projects receiving $946,000 from Canada Foundation for Innovation.


(Edmonton) Helmets are the leading injury-prevention device for head and brain injury. However, despite 30 years of research and development to build better helmets that are very effective at protecting against severe head and brain injury, concussion (a form of mild brain injury) is still a widespread injury in sports like hockey and football.

“We have all these amazing helmets, yet people are still getting concussed for some reason,” said mechanical engineering professor Christopher Dennison. “If we can understand why that is, we might be able to improve helmets or change our thinking about how helmets need to be designed to prevent injuries in the mild spectrum including concussion.”

To aid in this quest, Dennison received $60,000 in funding for a high-speed camera system for imaging the mechanics of impact, one of eight University of Alberta proposals receiving a total of $946,000 in infrastructure grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund.

The camera system will allow Dennison and his research team to better study the mechanical interaction between the helmet and the head to come up with better research questions about head protection.

He says the current industry standards for helmet testing involve a linear drop from heights usually ranging from one to two metres of a helmet-clad metal head form, to measure the linear acceleration associated with the head coming to a stop during that impact.

“With a few rare exceptions, linear acceleration is the one metric we use today to certify all helmets on the planet,” said Dennison, who also receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada as well as the Faculty of Engineering and Department of Mechanical Engineering. “One of the limitations of that approach is most impacts to the head are not straight-on linear impacts, but involve different amounts of head rotation.”

He said another limitation of strictly using linear acceleration as a pass or fail criterion is it doesn’t take into consideration what researchers and physicians know about head and brain injury—a consideration that is not lost on Dennison.

“As a mechanical engineer I’m not an expert in the brain or diagnosing concussions, so I have people that I collaborate with at the U of A who work, for instance, with youth athletes to develop concussion screening processes. I also work with people in industry who have been active on helmet certification bodies, and physicians who are involved with local sports teams that have a vested interest in our work,” he said. “This funding will enable the long-term goals of our collaborations and is therefore timely, appreciated and central to our success”

Receiving CFI funding is dependent on the success of a larger grant, which includes obtaining matching provincial funds and lining up a certain percentage of in-kind contributions.

“The Canadian government’s investment through CFI helps Canadian universities attract and retain the best researchers in an era of intense international competition. This new funding will enable the University of Alberta to continue strengthening its advanced research environment to support our researchers across multiple disciplines" said Lorne Babiuk, U of A vice-president (research). "I thank CFI for their generous support and congratulate our researchers.”

The Canada Foundation for Innovation has renamed its Leaders Opportunity Fund in honour of John R. Evans, the foundation’s first board chair. Created by the Government of Canada in 1997, CFI strives to build Canada’s capacity to undertake world-class research and technology development by investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions.

Other CFI grant recipients and projects

David Eisenstat (Medical Genetics)
Establishment of a Pediatric Nervous System Cancer and Development Laboratory

Hassan Dehghanpour (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Measurement and Modelling of Three-Phase Relative Permeability and Residual Oil Saturation in a SAGD Process

Mustafa Gul (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
An Integrated Experimental System for Structural Health Monitoring of Critical Civil Infrastructure$80,000

Rylan Lundgren (Chemistry)
Infrastructure for the Discovery of New Catalysts and Chemical Reactivity

Patricio Mendez (Chemical and Materials Engineering)
Development of Laser Processing Facility for Wear and Corrosion Protection Materials

Japan Trivedi (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Infrastructure for cEOR Polymer Characterization and ASP Design Research

Benjamin Willing (Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science)
Molecular Study of Host Microbial Interactions