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(Editor's Note: Bucknell's Web site is featuring some of the University's newest teacher-scholars. They are among the new faculty members highlighted in the Fall 2007 edition of Bucknell World.)
If the classic crash-test dummy head could talk, it might tell you when something hit it and maybe guess that it had a concussion or a skull fracture. What it couldn’t tell you is exactly where on its face it got hit or how severe the resulting injury might be.
But that’s exactly the kind of information scientists need to research better protection from crashes and projectiles and why Eric Kennedy, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, set out to build a smart dummy.
Kennedy worked with the Army’s Aeromedical Research Laboratory and a crash-test dummy manufacturer Denton ATD to build and test the Facial and Ocular CountermeasUre Safety (FOCUS) headform as a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech. He completed his dissertation and delivered the FOCUS to the Army in August.
The Army, which has seen a growing number of soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with eye and facial injuries, needs the headform to quickly test the effectiveness of safety equipment such as goggles and face shields.
The old head, which looks more alien than human, had basic instrumentation at the center that could detect impact, Kennedy explained, "but it didn’t give you any more information than that."
The FOCUS resembles a human head and, more importantly, has segmented sensors throughout that provide much more detailed information. While the FOCUS has immediate military applications, it can also be used to research ways to better protect drivers and athletes from injuries.
"The FOCUS gives you a discrete profile of the load across the face, so you know if it’s hit above the eye, or on the nose, or on the chin," Kennedy says. "For the first time, we have a dummy head that you can impact and actually discern whether or not it has sustained an eye injury of various severities.”
Bucknell intrigued Kennedy not only because of the opportunity to conduct high-end research but also because of its emphasis on teacher-student interaction. "I wanted to teach students how to do the practical things that I wish I had had more emphasis on in class." The fact that his wife, Carol McLaughlin Kennedy ’96, and parents-in-law are all Bucknell alumni made it an easy choice.
The University’s new biomedical engineering program sealed the deal. "To me, it was a natural fit," Kennedy says. "I knew I was going to have quality students. And I knew I was going to have motivated people to work with." He’s no dummy.
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Posted Nov. 16, 2007