ARLINGTON, Va.--Could better protection from traumatic brain injuries be on the horizon? The Office of Naval Research (ONR) believes it could be--and recently awarded $10,000 in scholarship money to a high school student doing concussion research.
Alberto Garcia, of Shallowater, Texas, received the Chief of Naval Research Scholarship Award for his research into traumatic brain injuries (TBI), at the 2015 Intel ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Garcia's project looked primarily at sport-related traumatic brain injuries--something the former football player is all too familiar with. With that in mind, he developed Robo F-pads, a series of sensors and stabilizers as part of a shoulder pad-helmet system that can reduce the whiplash motion correlated with concussion, spinal cord and neck injuries.
"When I first started this project, I envisioned football and hockey players being able to use it," said Garcia. "I never thought this could be used in the military until a year into my research; now every improvement on my system is added with the thought of it not only being used in physical contact sports, but in the military as well."
And that's good for U.S. warfighters, since exposures to blasts are a leading cause of TBI for military personnel in war zones, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Brain injuries can cause short- or long-term issues that impact physical, cognitive, behavioral and emotional performances of those affected.
"ONR has been actively researching ways to help our Sailors and Marines survive and even prevent injuries," said Dr. Tim Bentley, program officer and deputy, force health protection in ONR's Warfighter Performance office. "Due to advances in body armor and wound care, our warfighters have a better chance of surviving external bodily injuries and we want to see similar progression when it comes to internal injuries, like TBIs. Designing better helmets with smart sensors could be a step in the right direction of limiting damage from blasts."
Garcia's project was picked for the Chief of Naval Research Scholarship Award from more than 1,700 finalists as the one of greatest naval relevance. This is one of more than 70 special awards given at Intel ISEF. The scholarship is part of the Naval High School Science Awards Program, or NSAP, a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps program that encourages students to develop and retain an interest in science and engineering.
Garcia will put his scholarship to use this fall when he attends Texas Tech University, where he will major in computer/electrical engineering. He will also continue his current research as an undergraduate through the Honors College at the university.
Dr. Michael Simpson, director of education and workforce at ONR, and Cmdr. Mark Murray, professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, were on-hand to present a certificate signed by the Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mathias Winter, and a miniature Lone Sailor statue.
Intel ISEF is the world's largest high school science research competition. Each year high school students from more than 75 countries, regions and territories come to showcase their independent research projects and vie for approximately $4 million in scholarships contributed by government, industry and academia.
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