CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research by two Oregon State University faculty members may lead to safer, more comfortable protective helmets for military personnel.

Hsiou-Lien Chen and Brigitte Cluver, both in the Department of Design and Human Environment at OSU, received a contract in June 2006 to conduct testing on padding military helmets for Salem-based Oregon Ballistic Laboratories. Chen and Cluver are testing the thermal properties of the pads.

“The conventional military helmet with the mesh liner is designed to stop bullets, but is not effective in protecting against explosions,” Chen said.

The researchers studied the thermal properties of the helmets with and without padding. To conduct their research, Chen and Cluver enlisted the help of “Newton,” OSU’s thermal manikin. Newton, one of only four thermal manikins in the country on a university campus, consists of a carbon-epoxy shell with internal heater elements, temperature sensors, and an integrated fluid supply system to simulate metabolic heat and perspiration levels. Newton is housed in the Department of Design and Human Environment’s Functional Textile and Apparel Lab.

Chen and Cluver tested the military helmets with the traditional mesh liner and then compared the results to helmets with pads placed horizontally, and then vertically.

“Pads provide much more protection, as they act as a cushion between the helmet and head and absorb impact caused by blast waves, shrapnel, and bullets,” Chen said. “What we were asked to find out is, how thermally comfortable will these pads be when worn by soldiers on the battlefield?”

Cluver added: “If a soldier’s head becomes too hot, he or she may remove the helmet to cool off. This could have deadly consequences.”

When the researchers placed Newton in still air, the position of the liner pads did not affect insulation properties or evaporative cooling. However, when Newton was placed inside a wind tunnel under sweating test conditions, they found that the vertical pads had less insulation.

“Because the vertical pads have bigger gaps between the pads, they allow for greater ventilation and evaporative cooling,” Cluver said.

This initial research was submitted for publication in the Journal of Applied Economics.

The next step for Cluver and Chen is to test the different pad systems on human subjects. They received a $17,500 grant from the College of Health and Human Sciences to continue their research, which they hope will be used by the United States Department of Defense.

“We would like to develop cooling systems in the pads,” Cluver said. “We hope that the end result is that we can help in the development of thermally comfortable and safe protective helmets.”

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Hsiou-Lien Chen,