It's no secret that football is dangerous. Human beings weren't built to run full speed and collide with each other, regardless if they're wearing full football pads or not. Recent years have shown serious risks for football players at all levels, including long-term brain injuries caused by the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Repeated blows to the head resulted in Pro Football Hall of Famers Mike Webster and Junior Seau committing suicide after struggling for years, and they're only two names on a growing list of former NFL players.
Thanks to Changchun "Chad" Zeng, an associate professor and researcher at Florida State University, football at all levels could change forever thanks to a brand new technology he developed.
Zeng invented something called auxetic foam. Basically, as the foam absorbs the hit from a high-speed impact, it becomes denser and actually hardens, which would drastically change how traditional football helmets were designed. (If you were like me, yours were probably filled with air, right?)
This new technology could change everything.
"Contrary to conventional foams, auxetic foams become denser and harder when being hit," Zeng said. "The harder the foam is hit, the harder it gets. As a result, auxetic foams provide a much higher energy absorbing capability and much better protection."
Changchun Zeng developed the foam with his research team at Florida State University's High-Performance Materials Institute down in Tallahassee. The auxetic foam is exclusively licensed by Auxadyne, a company based in Florida. The company submitted Zeng's invention to the NFL's Play Smart. Play Safe. HeadHealthTECH Challenge VI where it was heralded for its game-changing design.
The NFL awarded Auxadyne an $86,688 grant to test Zeng's foam in different capacities to potentially become the future of NFL players' helmets.
"The talented team at Auxadyne is humbled and excited for the opportunity to explore the use of XPF in football helmets. We are confident that this generous award from HHTC VI will enable us to accomplish our company's mission of providing superior prevention, protection and performance to football athletes at all levels."
-- Joe Condon, President and Founder of Auxadyne
Despite how drastically this new foam technology could change the game, it's not just being used for football players.
Zeng believes his foam can be used to improve protective equipment in other sports, as well as body armor for the military, prosthetics and biomedical products, medical devices, hospital beds, knee pads, and even in automotive and aircraft designs.
For the associate professor at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, the idea of saving a game he loves is just icing on the cake.
"I was a graduate of The Ohio State University, and now I'm a part of Florida State, so football is big for me," he said. "I am also a fan of the NFL, so on top of being ecstatic knowing our technology could potentially lead to products that would make football safer to play, there is also a personal connection and a great sense of gratification."
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