Why don’t woodpeckers get whiplash?
You hear them rat-a-tat-tatting in your backyard, drilling in the old oak tree for a bite to eat below the bark. Their heads are roughly the size of a ping-pong ball. How do their little brains not to pureed into slush?
Researchers at Mississippi State are studying woodpeckers in hopes of using what they find to develop better football helmets and other concussion-preventing gear.
A red-bellied woodpecker’s beak typically strikes a tree trunk at about 14-16 miles per hour, similar to the speed professional football players run and the speed considered in standard requirements for designing football helmets.
MSU researchers found that the shock absorbed by a woodpecker, however, is typically 10 times greater than anything a football player is likely to feel on the field.
“We learned the woodpecker’s beak is a well-defined shock-absorbing system,” MSU assistant professor of agriculture and biological engineering Lakiesha Williams told the Memphis Business Journal. “We hope to establish design principles inspired by nature that will help us make light-weight, shock-absorbing materials that provide better protection on point of impact.”
What they develop could be as important to the future of football as anything that happens this week in Oakland, where the Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA case could alter the model of college athletics forever.
Concussions and the long-term health risks of head injuries have taken center stage in the NFL, which has cracked down on blows to the head as it finds itself facing a multi-million lawsuit brought by former players who have experienced the long-term health effects of head trauma. A $765 million settlement in the case was rejected by a judge in January.
Among the former professional players who were diagnosed with CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, was former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.
It’s an issue that, if not addressed adequately, could not only alter the sport, but dissuade many from playing it.
The issue of head injuries in football and other sports take center stage Friday in Birmingham, where the Cutting Edge Concussion Summit will be held at the Children’s of Alabama Russell Campus. Featured speakers include former Alabama quarterbacks John Parker Wilson and Tyler Watts, former Louisville quarterback Chris Redman, professional soccer Cat Reddick Whitehill, AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese and a panel of doctors, university professors and experts in the field.
Visit www.ChildrensAl.org/concussion to register for the conference.
What do you think?