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How to Reduce Football Concussions with Magnetic Helmets


(Photo: AJ Guel)

It's basic science: magnets with similar poles repel each other. So to reduce concussion injuries in football, install magnets in football helmets. When 2 players collide, the magnetic push will help soften the impact between the helmets and the trauma to human brains inside.

That's the proposal put forward by Raymond Colello, a neuroscientist. Every year in the United States, 1.2 million people play football, resulting in about 100,000 concussions. Colello thinks that small but powerful magnets could significantly reduce the number of football concussions. Kate Baggaley writes for Science News:

Colello, of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, is testing magnets made in China from the rare-earth element neodymium. They are the most powerful commercially available magnets and weigh about one-third of a pound each (football helmets weigh from 3.5 to 5.5 pounds). When placed one-fourth of an inch away from each other, two magnets with their same poles face-to-face exert nearly 100 pounds of repulsive force.

Colello tested his magnets with the same procedure that the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment uses to evaluate football helmets. He placed magnets on the front of a weight and let it drop from various heights onto another magnet. The heights Colello tested (between 6 inches and 4 feet) represent the impact forces athletes normally experience on the playing field.

“At 48 inches, if you dropped a standard helmet and it hit a stationary object, it would create 120 g’s of force,” says Colello. “With the magnets we drop that below 100 g’s.”

-via Uproxx


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It is something I've looked up before... and most of the limited work on health effects of static magnetic fields seems to find virtually no large scale, acute effects at fields strengths on the order of what is being discussed here. Most of the more obvious (but temporary) effects come from much stronger fields, and often involve moving relative to the field. Various studies of metabolic effects find subtle changes at lower field strength, but are not straightforward to connect to any big impact, and in some cases are of slight benefit. Citations saying otherwise would be welcome. Besides, a little design work can also minimize how much of that field goes to the inside of the helmet, although probably better motivated by trying to make more efficient use of the magnets than health effects.

I would be more concerned about how long the magnets last, as many don't like rough handling and collisions. Also, some thought needs to be put into how they are arranged to minimize changes of helmets being pulled together instead of pushing apart.
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