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Laser Research Illuminates IED Effects

Dec. 20, 2012 - 07:39AM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
A model of pressures in the brain due to blast wave propagation indicates which functional areas are subjected to the highest pressures.
A model of pressures in the brain due to blast wave propagation indicates which functional areas are subjected to the highest pressures. (TASC)
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Research into laser protection for pilots has led to better computer modeling of how to protect soldiers from IED blast effects.

Researchers at defense contractor TASC have devised models that show how the blast from an IED propagates through the human skull and eyes. The models are rooted in studies that TASC did for the Air Force on how much laser energy is needed to damage the eyes and the body, and how to protect personnel against laser beams.

“We took that underlying capability and methodology [and] brought it together for brain trauma work, so that those [medical] communities see the effect of the blast on various parts of the brain,” said Robert Cartledge, a former Air Force veterinarian who is now a technical fellow for TASC in San Antonio. “If they changed the design, shape and materials of helmet or eyewear, what effect would that have on improving protection?”

A demonstration video by TASC shows, using blue and red colors against a diagram of the human skull, just how blast force from an IED penetrates and expands into various areas of the human skull. A high-fidelity model shows how blast moves around the eye and into the optic nerve. The underlying data is from open-source medical research.

Preliminary results have illustrated the effects of protective equipment.

“In regard to optical trauma, the reduction in strains as the result of protective equipment is much greater for the optic nerve than for the eyeball,” said TASC physicist Edward Early.

Early said TASC, which is internally funding the research, is taking a systems-level approach that combines various disciplines such as biology, engineering and computer science.

Biology is needed to determine the effects of strain on cells and biophysics for the propagation of pressure through biological tissue. Computational physics can model the propagation of pressure, while computer visualization represents the IED blast levels inside the head. The 3-D scanning technologies are used to integrate geometric representations of helmets and eyewear into the models, and engineering ultimately designs protective equipment.

“There are not that many models out there that put together the fundamental biological properties into a design tool that allows trade-offs between various types of protection,” Cartledge said.

The modeling is intended to help with development and acquisition decisions.

“Does changing the design of the helmet give me more bang for the buck than changing the thickness of the helmet?” Cartledge asked.

TASC has shown the models to the Army’s Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Trauma Institute.

Cartledge sees spinoffs of this research for civilian use, from better bike helmets to stronger buildings.

“How do you design better buildings and barriers against blasts so that we can link it back to whether or not the people in those structures are going to be better protected? It shows our view that most problems are systems-level, and you need to integrate most aspects to get a better solution.”

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