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Engineering Is: Protecting Soldiers


Soldiers in battle wear many pounds of protective gear. But that protection isn’t perfect. Those who survive bomb blasts often suffer brain trauma, resulting in symptoms ranging from memory loss to blurred vision. MRI scans often can’t detect brain injuries from shock-wave jolts, because the damage consists of microscopic tears to brain cells. But Shu Yang, a University of Pennsylvania materials engineer, has developed a crystal patch that changes color when hit by a shock wave. The resulting color can indicate the severity of the blast. A patch worn on a uniform could allow medics to more quickly determine if a blast victim is at risk of injury. The U.S. Army is also using special sensor-equipped helmets in Afghanistan that measure how badly a head is shaken by blasts. The collected data will help researchers develop helmets that offer better shock-wave protection.

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