Science Strikes a Blow for Safety; Inovation & Technology

Article excerpt


SANDY Bell goes to work and `hits men with a hammer', according to her two-year-old son.

The `man' Dr Bell hits is an experimental artificial head used by defence scientists to understand what happens in the skull when it suffers a severe blow.

The inspiration for the project was a call from a colleague after Scottish bantamweight boxer Jim Murray died from a blood clot in his brain following a title bout.

During the 2am call, Bell and her colleague wondered whether the stealth technology that prevents nuclear submarines being detected by sonar could help save boxers' lives.

Bell, a scientist at the Defence Evaluation Research Agency, says: `We decided we had to find out exactly what happens inside the head when it is punched.'

At DERA's headquarters in Farnborough, Hampshire, advanced work has taken place for the Navy on how sound waves converted into electrical energy can be made to baffle or transmit sounds.

Some of this work led to flat panel loudspeakers, a technology since licensed to Verity for commercial exploitation.

Bell explains: `The human head is a just a structure made of certain materials, as is a submarine.

`In the case of submarines, we stop vibrational sound inside the vessel being transmitted into the sea. We also protect the sub from incoming sonar.' Applying the same

principles to a physical punch, she is trying to establish what types of energy waves cause damage to the structure of the head.

The DERA head took two months to build. It consists of three types of polyurethane responsive enough to simulate the properties of the skull, the brain and its surrounding tissue.

The layers of synthetic tissue absorb shock waves in much the same way as human tissue.

The head, which took two months to build, consists of three types polyurethane responsive enough to simulate the different properties of the skull, the brain and its surrounding tissue.

When the head is hit, the wave patterns show on a computer screen fed by 93 remote sensors in the head.

It could be the actual gloves, or it could the helmets worn by boxers. Bell says: `If we know what is causing the injury, we can take steps to prevent those injuries.'

The project is mainly backed by commercial sponsors Kistler UK, National Instruments, Micro Star and Dolch, with a small amount from DERA, a Ministry of Defence agency.

In return the sponsors hope for commercial spin-offs from improving the technology behind crash helmets and sports protective headgear.

Both the British Board of Boxing Control and the Home Office are showing close interest. The Home Office is concerned about the effectiveness of police helmets.

Although the project has only just started, Bell believes that significant knowledge about how injuries are caused will be learned within months.

THE Internet is the latest medium for turning music CDs into a format that can bring MTV-style multimedia entertainment to home PCs.

Electronics giant Sony is developing its range of 'extra' CD titles that also play video clips, so when connected to the Internet they deliver up-to-date information about a band.

Sony's slow-growing CD Extra format now has some 40 titles that when played through a computer's CD drive will play videos of a band, **AVOID REPETITION** display biographies and play snatches from live shows.

The new format costs the same as a traditional music CD, but includes the `CD Extra' logo on the casing. **SO WHAT?**

Sony's latest move is to open a special Internet site. When an `extra' CD is played on a computer connected to the Web, the CD links to a Website that has the latest information about the artist, tour dates, news and video clips from their current tour.

French PC owners are being tempted to buy the Love Crazy album by US rock outfit Big Soul with 10 hours' free Internet use and software included in the price, so they can jump straight to the band's website from the CD. …