Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Lab Reports

Antarctica’s Cold Data on Climate Change

Mary Albert, an adjunct professor at Thayer School and senior research engineer at the U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab in Hanover, is the lead U.S. partner on a Norwegian research expedition investigating climate and glaciology in East Antarctica. The project is one of more than 200 encompassed by the International Polar Year (IPY), a research program that began in March 2007 and will continue through March 2009. In late October Albert, chair of the U.S. Committee to the IPY from 2003 to 2005, joined the rest of the team in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. On November 16 they set off on their traverse of the East Antarctic Plateau.

POLAR EXPRESS: Mary Albert, fifth from right, poses with the Norwegian research team before their Antarctic traverse. Photo courtesy of the Norwegian-U.S. Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica
POLAR EXPRESS: Mary Albert, fifth from right, poses with the Norwegian research team before their Antarctic traverse. Photo courtesy of the Norwegian-U.S. Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica

The plateau is part of the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The route for the trek is from Troll Station, a permanent Norwegian research station located halfway between the coast and the plateau, to the United States South Pole Station — a distance of some 1,740 miles. In addition to traveling through previously unsampled areas, the team is revisiting sites investigated in the 1960s. Their objective is to collect ice cores for later analysis and to study the physical and chemical properties of snow and firn (old snow) within shallow snow pits — all to advance our understanding of climate variability within East Antarctica and its role in the global climate system.

To develop historical temperature profiles, the research team will conduct isotopic analysis of the ice and firn cores drilled at different locations on the plateau. Albert is measuring the air permeability, thermal conductivity, density, and microstructures within snow and firn stratigraphy. By comparing these data with those from other expeditions carried out since 1999 under the International Transantarctic Scientific Expedition program (consisting of 21 member countries), the team will be able to map climate history and climate patterns over the past 200-300 years.

At Thayer School Albert acts as thesis advisor to graduate and undergraduate students.

Smart Helmet Detects Brain Trauma

Simbex LLC, founded by adjunct associate engineering professor Richard Greenwald Th’88 and adjunct professor emeritus Robert Dean, recently expanded its head-impact biomechanics testing arena from the athletic field to the battlefield.

Simbex’s HIT System helmet measures impacts to assess brain injury. Photo courtesy of Simbex LLC.
Simbex’s HIT System helmet measures impacts to assess brain injury. Photo courtesy of Simbex LLC.

The Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System™ is a biomechanical feedback system that measures the magnitude and severity of head impacts related to mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Sensors installed in the helmet measure and record the linear and rotational acceleration of the head following an impact. The data can be transmitted wirelessly to a laptop computer on the sidelines, which calculates all the key biomechanical elements of impact for later analysis.

The HIT System, incorporated into commercially available Riddell football helmets, has been tested extensively on high school and college football fields. Time magazine hailed it as one of the “Best Inventions of 2007” (see Kudos).

In April, Simbex, in partnership with researchers from Dartmouth Medical School and the athletics departments of Dartmouth, Brown, and Virginia Tech, was awarded a $3.6 million Bioengineering Research Partnership grant from the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research at the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.).

More recently, the U.S. Army asked Simbex to test the technology for use on the battlefield.

The most common mTBIs in the current U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are those caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). IED shock waves travel at around 1,000 feet per second, almost as fast as the speed of sound. Shrapnel bouncing off a helmet can rattle the brain’s soft tissue and cause invisible but permanent damage. Such injuries often go unnoticed until the soldier begins experiencing short-term memory problems or undergoes a change in attitude. The Army has requested technology that can record the biomechanics of head trauma received in combat and provide data for medical staff to quickly analyze the extent of brain injury so that soldiers can get the treatment necessary to return them fit for military or civilian life.

The instrumented combat helmet employs eight accelerometers with high bandwidth so that both high magnitude and high frequency impacts can be recorded. A pressure transducer measures changes caused by shock waves. Should the army decide to implement HIT technology for widescale battlefield use, Simbex will redesign the data collection system to be compatible with existing technologies currently used in army bases, such as hand-held scanners employed by medics in the field.

Simbex also recently received N.I.H. grants for rehabilitation product development, including their fall-risk assessment and fall prevention training system, an in-shoe monitoring system for children with cerebral palsy, and a novel orthopedic implant to improve prosthesis fit and overall comfort and stability for lower-limb amputees.

Over the years, a number of B.E. and M.E.M. students have worked with Simbex engineers to improve design and testing of the different systems; some of those students have gone on to become Simbex employees.

—Ellen Frye

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Categories: The Great Hall, Lab Reports

Tags: climate change, entrepreneurship, faculty, research

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