Purdue football players are teaming up with neurotrauma researchers this season to measure the impact that football has on their brains.
For the past five years, the Purdue University Neurotrauma Group has been working with high school football teams by placing sensors in helmets and conducting MRI brain scans to see how hits on the field impact brain activity.
This year, they will expand their research to the college ranks, thanks to cooperation from the Purdue football team.
“Our hope is that this will kind of be the first step, but eventually we’ll be able to kind of track the changes that happen from freshman year of high school all the way through senior year of college,” said Eric Nauman, a mechanical engineering professor and member of the Neurotrama Group.
The research team is able to measure hits in real time thanks to sensors called accelerometers which are placed in the padding of the helmet.
“It records the accelerations that they experience every time they take a hit,” Nauman said. “They show up on (this computer)”
The computer tracks the overall number and severity of hits, along with where they impact the head. During the past five years of research, the group has found that hits on the field impact many more players than just those who experience concussion symptoms.
“In the high school athletes we saw that roughly 10 percent of them get concussions each year,” Nauman said. “But about half the players are showing changes in their neurophysiology that are worrisome for us.”
“All of the changes that we’re seeing, that occur in the brain, are related to the number of hits that the individual takes,” said Larry Leverenz, Director of Purdue Athletic Training Education.
This season, they’re tracking even more hits, in even more ways. In addition to helmet sensors, they are also experimenting with sensors that stick directly to players’ necks.
Nauman says the group will be looking to see if the advanced skills of college players might reveal something that could eventually help younger players.
“We think that when you come up here and you get to work with players that are bigger, stronger, faster, possibly having better technique, that we’ll see a different pattern of hits,” Nauman said.