Nikhil Gupta Explains the Science Behind Helmet Safety at the 2012 Olympics

This summer, the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) will make an appearance of sorts at the London 2012 Olympic Games, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Nikhil Gupta, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation (NSF) teamed up with Gupta to explain the science of “Designing Safety Helmets”. NBC Learn has been producing a video series about the science behind sports with the support of the NSF and has developed a special series “Science of the Summer Olympics: Engineering in Sports” for the London Olympic Games.

NBC Learn tapped into Gupta’s expertise on composite materials and foams to explain how helmets are designed to protect athletes from injuries. The episode highlights differences among helmets used in cycling, equestrianism and boxing. Gupta’s research, supported by the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research, has extensively looked at the development of next generation protective materials. The video demonstrates procedures for rigorously testing the helmet foams using impact and compression test machines, while the images are acquired and analyzed using a high-speed camera capturing over 10,000 frames per second. He also demonstrated “invisible” damage using ultrasound imaging and an electron microscope.  

“As a designer, it’s a big challenge to develop a helmet that provides safety,” Gupta explains, “and at the same time, provides comfort and also does not compromise the performance of the athlete.”

Keep an eye out for the work of Gupta during such events as equestrian sports and cycling, for which helmets are intended to protect against single impacts with traditional or aerodynamic designs, and boxing, for which headgear must withstand repeated blows while allowing mobility.