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College collaborates with VA to improve motor vehicle safety

The crash test simulator sled in the Neurosurgery Research Facility.
The crash test simulator sled in the Neurosurgery Research Facility.

May 03, 2011 College News - Vehicle crashes, unfortunately, are a fact of life. Faculty and staff in the Vehicle Crashworthiness Laboratory (VCL) and the Neurosurgery Research Facility (NRF) at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center use their biomedical engineering expertise to minimize the effect crashes have on the people involved.

Their research has led to the federally-mandated side pole crash test that led to the inclusion of side airbags in more vehicles, improvement of vehicle restraint systems, and the development of best practices for extrication of passengers after a crash. They also have used their expertise to evaluate options for minimizing the damage from blasts and blunt trauma to soldiers on the battle field and to improve rehabilitation for those veterans who return from the field injured.

These two facilities are part of the MCW Department of Neurosurgery, which has had a research collaboration with the Zablocki VA Medical Center since 1963.

The VCL, considered a full-scale crash lab, became fully operational in 1998. It is equipped and staffed for testing vehicles under frontal and side-impact scenarios. It has a 471 ft. track with a 200 horse power DC motor and state-of-the-art data acquisition systems.

The Neurosurgery Research Facility opened in 2009 to evaluate the safety of vehicle occupants under various crash modes. It houses a simulator sled that mimics a crash pulse to conduct frontal, side- and rear-impact simulations, generating data for biofidelity evaluations of various standard and prototype dummies under various crash modes. The resulting information has been used to develop new criteria to assess the crashworthiness of vehicles and improve vehicle safety restraint systems.

The crash test simulator sled in the Neurosurgery Research Facility.
The crash test simulator sled in the Neurosurgery Research Facility.

Together, the two facilities increase the College’s research flexibility in proposing new experiments and making the data generated more applicable to modern vehicular safety systems that are generated worldwide – like airbags and active seatbelt restraint systems.

The College’s biomechanics laboratory with both the full-scale crash laboratory and the crash simulator sled laboratory is the only such facility in the world based in an academic setting.

Major achievements of the Vehicle Crashworthiness Laboratory and the Neurosurgery Research Facility include:

  • Concluded a ten-year study to develop side impact injury criteria for the recent upgrade to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) side impact standards
     
  • Contributed to the frontal crash FMVSS to add neck injury criteria to the safety standard
     
  • Developed a protocol to protect child occupants from improperly deployed side airbags now adopted as a voluntary manufacturer’s standard
     
  • Concluded a seven-year study to help manufacturer’s develop protective countermeasures for far side impact crashes as part of an Australian consortium
     
  • A large part of the military continues to use the lower-limb injury criteria that was developed in the labs in the mid-1990s.

Current studies being conducted in the MCW Vehicle Crashworthiness Laboratory include:

  • Biomechanical Investigations Using Human Surrogates
    This project defines human tolerance limits in a vehicle crash and examines the “human-like” response of current and new crash test dummies. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
     
  • Side Impact Crash Testing for New Car Assessment Program
    This project assesses the crashworthiness of new model year vehicles in a side impact crash. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
     
  • Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN)
    This project collects and analyzes data on real-world crash patients who enter the level-1 trauma hospital systems. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 
     
  • Biomedical analysis, tolerance, and mitigation of acute and chronic trauma
    This project evaluates, investigates, and develops tools to mitigate injuries to military personnel from different types of trauma-producing scenarios including underbody vehicle blast from an IED (improvised explosive device). The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s United States Army Medical Research and Material Command
     
  • Blast and Blunt Mechanisms for Mild-TBI Induce Differing Outcomes
    This project outlines differences in motor, pathological, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes following blast- and blunt-induced mild traumatic brain injury that may eventually be used to define treatments and rehabilitations for veterans. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Prediction and Prevention of Musculoskeletal and Blast Injury During Naval Ops
    This project is building a computational modeling tool to predict injurious environments and scenarios in a military environment particularly relevant to the human head and spine. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research.
     
  • Dummy Research and Small Overlap Testing at the Department of Veterans Affairs
    This project assesses the responses of crash test dummies in realistic vehicle crash environment scenarios to include different types of crash test dummies, prototype restraint systems, and structurally modified vehicles that incorporate new safety features. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
     
  • Side Facing Neck Injury Criteria
    This project correlates injury and/or neck load data with crash test dummy data and develops injury assessment reference values for the dummy in airplane crash scenarios. The project is funded by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
     

The MCW faculty involved in these projects include Dennis J. Maiman, MD, PhD, Chairman and Professor of Neurosurgery; Frank A. Pintar, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neuroscience Research Labs; Narayan Yoganandan, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Chief of Biomedical Engineering; Brian D. Stemper, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery; and Nagarajan Rangarajan, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery.

MCW staff involved in these projects include James Budzinski, Research Associate; Howard Cole, Engineering Tech; William Drobac, MBA, Data Analyst; Joseph Frank, Engineering Tech; Paul Gromowski, Research Associate; Dale Halloway, Program Manager; Hans Hauschild, Engineer; John Humm, MS, Engineer; Mark Meyer, Engineer; Elden Meyer, Engineering Tech; Jason Moore, MS, Engineer; Heather Peterson, Laboratory Tech; Benjamin Pintar, Engineering Tech; Natalie Rahming, Clinical Research Coordinator; Michael Rawski, Engineering Tech; James Rinaldi, Research Associate; Michael Schlick, MS, Engineer; Also Shah, Engineering Tech; Sheena Smiddy, Program Coordinator; Christy Stadig, Research Associate; Steven Storvik, Engineering Tech; and Stephen Tilistyak, Engineering Tech. Jason Hallman, postdoctoral fellow, is also involved.

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