BLACKSBURG, VA — The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab has become a staple around the country when it comes to helmet safety ratings.
In 2011, researchers at Virginia Tech began evaluating helmets and created a rating system to allow consumers to purchase the helmets that provide the most protection.
The idea started with Dr. Stefan Duma and Gunnar Bronlinson, a team physician for Virginia Tech football.
They knew they wanted to look more into concussions because, in the past, the diagnosis of a concussion was not taken seriously. In order to learn more, they came up with the idea of attaching sensors to the football players to measure the impact of the hits they were taking to the head.
What the two men came up with was unlike any other research going on around the country. Because it was so different, they had a difficult time finding someone to fund their research, but eventually found interest in Blacksburg.
Once they began collecting data on the hits, the researchers created the STAR (Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk) system to grade the helmets. The STAR system ranks helmets from one to five stars, with five being the best.
This system allowed Virginia Tech to become a prominent name in the helmet industry, with colleges and NFL organizations from all over the country using their helmet rating system to try and lower the risk of their players suffering a concussion.
In order to collect more data, the researchers from Virginia Tech asked other colleges to collect data as well. They also reached out to a youth football league in Montgomery County to learn more about how younger players were impacted by the contact to their heads.
After learning more about football, they decided to expand their research and try and improve other sports that wear helmets. This expansion included research in lacrosse, baseball, softball, field hockey, equestrian, and soccer.
When asked about what the helmet lab is currently working on, Dr. Barry Miller, who works closely with the researchers, responded that they are always working on something new to improve helmeted sports.
“We are working really hard on our bike helmets right now. We do our best to recreate it as if someone were falling off their bike to test the impact and make the helmets as safe as possible,” Miller added.
Taylor Langon, an athletic trainer with Virginia Tech Sports Medicine, does extensive research in the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab and serves as the liaison between the researchers in the lab and the physicians in the Sports Medicine department.
She is currently part of a project that is working on an improved version of the football helmet. They are working to create helmets that are specific to positions and allow them the most protection for their hits to the head.
“They took their best rated helmet and added another component to it to kind of mitigate some of those forces,” Langon added in regard to the project she is working on for creating a helmet for linemen.
The extra component she speaks of is added to the front of the helmet. They took their best helmet and added an extra portion of padding to the front to allow for a safer experience for players.
Both Miller and Langon made it clear that the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab is invested in creating the safest experience for players in all helmeted sports, and while they have made progress in the right direction, they are eager to continue their research and improve the safety of helmets.