By: John Morton ’11
Everyone who has played a sport knows about how importance of good head protection. The Boston Bruins’ Zdeno Chara’s hit to Max Pacioretty during the recent Montreal Canadiens game illustrates that head injuries such as concussions are present in all contact sports. In similar fashion, the United States Army is using helmets to prevent head injuries and even deaths by bullets during combat.
The difficulty of designing and constructing helmets arises from a myriad of challenging factors. These factors include biological, physical properties and cost. There’s a lot of science built into every helmet design. For instance, they could develop a bulletproof helmet but it would weigh too much for a soldier to wear for 20 hours a day in combat situations. Also a helmet that performs well in the summer heat of the Middle East desert might not perform as well as high in the mountains of Afghanistan during the winter. Also cost becomes a large factor when considering design. A helmet that can work in all conditions might use exotic materials but cost over $80,000 and be prohibitive when supplying over a 1,000,000 troops with helmets.
Our special guest speaker, Mr. Don Lee, a Mechanical Engineer at Natick Army Labs, spoke to Mr. Judah Boulet and Mr. John Tassinari’s physics classes about the complex physics decisions behind military helmet design. The Army has to take into account the mass and speed of the bullet, what angle the bullet is shot at, and the rotational kinematics behind the bullet. Thus, the principles of kinetic and potential energy, the kinematics behind the loss of energy due to heat, and the rotational kinematics all serve a crucial role in the construction of these helmets.
Additionally, another principle at work was simply how heavy the helmets should be and how the soldier would use them to maximize production and remain safe. These efforts all arose from knowledge of how important it was to protect the brain in warfare or even in physical activities. This head protection ultimately serves to keep our soldiers safe in battle and illustrate the idea that science, be it biological or physical, constantly plays a role in our lives.
A lot of helmet technology trickles down into other non-military applications such as athletics and recreation usage. Many of the top helmets in athletics from the pros to youth sports borrow learned technology thanks to the hard work of Mr. Lee’s team of engineers. So even a young athlete can benefit from the designs of a military helmet.