Bringing Computer Modeling to “The Hurt Locker”

The Hurt Locker

A group of MIT researchers developed computer models to simulate the effects of explosions on brain tissue, concluding that adding face shields to standard-issue helmets could greatly reduce traumatic brain injuries.

head model

130,000 U.S. service members have sustained traumatic brain injuries from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A group led by MIT’s Raul Radovitzky, an associate professor in its Department of Aeuronautics and Astronautics, set out to model just how the pressure waves emitted from an explosion interact with the brain. The computer models they came up with, according to MIT, give an unprecedented amount of detail, delving into the physics of blast waves, and distinguishing its effects on the skull, sinuses, cerebrospinal fluid, and gray matter. In the hopes of spurring further research, Radovitzky is releasing his computer code to the public today.

The intriguing–and helpful–finding of Radovitzky et al. is that helmets aren’t enough. The face, it turns out, is the main thoroughfare by which shock waves make their way to the brain. The typical combat helmet delays the arrival of these waves to the brain, but doesn’t prevent their arrival. But Radovitzky’s team showed that the addition of a polycarbonate face shield to the model greatly reduced the effects of blast waves on the brain. The findings are published in today’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Further study is needed, looking at varying explosion angles and intensities, and examining whether the torso and neck could also be pathways by which the concussive force of explosions rattles brains.

[Images: The Hurt Locker; MIT]DZ