Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the infamous weapons used against troops in Iraq and
Afghanistan, cause the most injuries.
With a nearly $3.3 million Department of Defense grant, a team of 10 UNL engineers is
collaborating with the U.S. Army to investigate the effects that pressure waves from IED blasts
have on the brain. Researchers suspect these blasts may cause mild to severe traumatic brain
injuries that may only become apparent months or years later.
"We are answering a national and even an international need," Namas Chandra, professor and
associate dean of engineering who leads this initiative, said of this research.
Traumatic brain injuries may result from atmospheric pressure changes caused by blast waves.
High pressure passes through helmets and skulls, damaging the brain at the cellular level.
Even mild traumatic brain injury with few initial symptoms may cause slow deterioration over
time, but these injuries are still poorly understood.
To study these effects, UNL engineers are developing a simulated human head and building
a blast facility to generate controlled pressure waves. The unique approach uses experiments,
modeling and simulation to understand wave impact at the cellular level. They hope the research
will one day lead to better personal protection devices.
UNL engineers bring extensive expertise and years of research in materials, personal protection
systems and blast wave simulation to this research. The collaborative project includes Army and
Department of Energy research laboratories and others.
There is wide interest in the project, and Chandra expects the two-year grant will lay groundwork
for continued research.
"This work will really put Nebraska on the map of traumatic brain injury work. We are not going
to answer all of the questions, but we are going to figure out a significant part of the puzzle."
Each year, an estimated 1.4 million Americans suffer traumatic head injuries. Ultimately, this
research could help protect the public as well as U.S. troops.
- Gillian Klucas