Biomedical Engineering Research

Childhood injuries can seem random, senseless, and incomprehensible.  At the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP), our biomedical engineering researchers are pinpointing and assessing the causes of these injuries to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. The goal of our scientists is to translate field data and laboratory testing into improved products for children.

Following deliberate identification of issues through the Center's surveillance methods, engineers translate real-world data into computer models and laboratory tests that simulate real world injury events so that additional scenarios can be explored. The end result is industry-relevant information and increased clinical knowledge.

There are three dimensions to the Center’s Engineering approach:

  • Human Factors Engineering involves the study of factors and development of tools that facilitate the human interaction with systems in a safe and efficient way.
  • Pediatric Biomechanics Research provides quantitative data on how children respond to forces and accelerations experienced in injury- causing events, such as motor vehicle crashes.
  • Computational Modeling involves CIRP’s computational engineers creating multidimensional computer models that replicate a child and his kinematics in injury events based on the real world results explored in field investigation and the Injury Biomechanics laboratory.

The Center's biomedical engineering researchers provide valuable insights about ways to improve product designs to better protect children to vehicle and restraint manufacturers, as well as federal regulating agencies.

Through an annual industry-focused conference on child injury, Advances in Child Injury Prevention, regular presentation of research at scientific meetings, and continued dialogue with the Safety Engineering community, Center researchers ensure that their findings are heard and quickly translated into improved safety designs for children. Center researchers have developed a number of sophisticated research tools to accomplish CIRP’s goal of “research in action.”

Human Factors Engineering

Human Factors research at CIRP examines behaviors, emotions, beliefs, and preferences of young drivers. We collect objective evidence on how drivers handle traffic situations and identify intervention strategies for improving their knowledge and skills. Our research is conducted to resolve real-world issues and to contribute to theoretical advancement.

We house an advanced driving simulator, which allows us to simulate a variety of dynamic traffic and roadway situations and to study the effects of distractions, such as conversing on a cell phone and driving with passengers, on driver behavior. A portable eye-tracker further provides information on how drivers scan the environment and maintain situational awareness. We also design interventions that target the skills young drivers lack and deliver educational materials in an engaging and interactive way through online games.

Pediatric Biomechanics

The Center’s Pediatric Biomechanics research is conducted to fill critical gaps in quantitative data on the response of children to crash or other injury forces. Anthropomorphic research about the biomechanics of pediatric injury and children’s tolerance for withstanding forces of impact has been extremely limited to date. The need for this type of data is heightened by recent federal legislation and rulemaking that focused on defining the unique needs of child safety, due-care efforts by the safety industry, and increasing consumer demand for safety. Our Biomechanics research enhances our understanding of the mechanisms of pediatric injury and provides a solid experimental foundation for the development of improved injury prevention technology. Specifically, the objectives of this research are to:

  • develop improved injury assessment devices and techniques
  • facilitate the design of technical interventions to prevent or reduce the severity of injury
  • determine mechanisms of injury so that diagnoses and treatment can be enhanced

For more information on CIRP’s Pediatric Biomechanics research, click here.

Computational Modeling

Mathematical models and computer simulations have proven to be effective in injury prevention and research, as it allows for the exploration of many more scenarios than could be explored with human subjects. In addition, the use of anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs), or crash test dummies, in physical crash tests is expensive and provides data for a single mode of impact at a time. The Center’s Computational Modeling research focuses on understanding complex physical and biological systems and their behaviors using an array of finite element (FE) models and rigid body models of the human body, ATD, and vehicle. Using mathematical analysis, modeling and simulations, the computational engineers' research approach complements traditional laboratory-based research methods utilized  by the Center's other researchers.

The Center's computational methods use the data from surveillance, field investigation and biomechanical methods implemented by the Center’s other researchers to predict dynamics, kinematics, and injury mechanisms during a crash scenario. A number of “what if” situations can be analyzed using this methodology. These iterations aid researchers in visualizing and understanding the mechanisms of occupant injuries and their interactions with the restraint systems. Findings may then be used for the design of new products to mitigate the risk of injury.

Previous Engineering Research

Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN)
In 2005, the Center was awarded a five-year contract from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to serve as the only site primarily focused on pediatric occupants in the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN). A multidisciplinary research affiliation of clinicians and engineers in academia, industry and government, CIREN's mission is to improve the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of motor vehicle crash injuries, thus reducing deaths, disabilities and human and economic costs through the study of real-world cases of serious injuries sustained in car crashes. Pooling data from eight network trauma centers nationwide, CIREN provides a rich database for analysis, forming the basis for potentially life-changing tools and technologies. To learn more about CIREN's current activities, click here.

Abdominal Insert for 6-year-old Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD)
Abdominal injuries, along with lumbar spine fractures, are part of a constellation of injuries referred to as "seat belt syndrome." Geometrical characteristics of the pelvis and abdomen of younger children place them at higher risk for these injuries. Efforts to design restraints that mitigate these injuries are limited because no current pediatric ATD can accurately quantify the abdominal response to belt loading. This research project addresses this gap through a four-phased effort involving pediatric anthropometrics, real-world abdominal injury risk, abdominal biomechanical structural response and injury tolerance from a porcine (pig) model, and development of an abdominal insert for the 6-year-old ATD based on these data. Collaborators on this project include the University of Virginia and Ford Motor Co. Funding was provided by Takata Corp. and Ford Motor Co.