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Traumatic Brain Injury Protection: Blast Pressure Sensors in Helmets

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

The cost of treating traumatic brain injury (TBI) is estimated to run into billions of dollars in the future. To date, the majority of research targeted at understanding and mitigating TBI has focused on impact (blunt trauma), where the duration and magnitude of the acceleration imparted by the impact are typically used to predict damage. However, in some environments, blasts can be a significant contributor to TBI. Using LLNL modeling methods a new mechanism was discovered that may contribute significantly to the generation of blast-induced traumatic brain injury. Current protection systems, e.g., helmets, are designed primarily to protect against various forms of debris and shrapnel, not blast. Leveraging LLNL modeling methods and understanding of this new mechanism could contribute to the design of protective equipment that better protects against blast without sacrificing its effectiveness against other threats.

The goal of a partnership is to design the next generation of protective equipment against blast. The research will use LLNL's expertise in pressure sensor design and high fidelity modeling methods which have generated new understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to blast-induced brain trauma.


LLNL's high fidelity hydrocode is capable of predicting blast loads and directly coupling those loads to structures to predict a mechanical response. By combining this code and our expertise in modeling blast-structure interaction and damage, along with our access to experimental data and testing facilities, we can contribute to the design of protective equipment that can better mitigate the biological effects of blast.

LLNL has investigated two types of sensors to quantify the blast environment, which will help medical personnel diagnose the severity of injuries and triage patients. Both sensor designs are small and lightweight. One new sensor uses a tiny microelectromechanical gauge and the other is an inexpensive, disposable, and easily replaceable plastic cylinder. Each sensor contains a paper that changes color when exposed to specific levels of pressure.

More information can be found in a Science & Technology Review article and an LLNL press release.

BenefitsNew understanding of how blast can contribute to brain trauma provides a pathway for improving helmet systems and other protective equipment, and designing vehicles or structures to enhance the protection of their occupants from blast. Better designs for protective equipment and vehicles would result in fewer casualties from TBI, improved operational effectiveness, and reduced costs associated with veterans' treatment. There is also the potential to provide criteria, or even sensing devices, for identifying when blast victims might require immediate medical intervention, independent of what they self-report, and therefore save lives.Applications and Industries

The principal goal is to develop personal or vehicular armor systems that provide better protection from blast effects, so the primary commercial users will be the military and civilian protective forces. However, there are also potential applications other industries:

  • Athletic equipment
  • Mining
  • Construction
More InformationCurrent computational results are preliminary. Additional computational analyses of blast phenomena and possible designs are necessary, as well as experimental or field validation.Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Patent 8,397,551
Passive blast pressure sensor
A passive blast pressure sensor for detecting blast overpressures of at least a predetermined minimum threshold pressure. The blast pressure sensor includes a piston-cylinder arrangement with one end of the piston having a detection surface exposed to a blast event monitored medium through one end of the cylinder and the other end of the piston having a striker surface positioned to impact a contact stress sensitive film that is positioned against a strike surface of a rigid body, such as a backing plate. The contact stress sensitive film is of a type which changes color in response to at least a predetermined minimum contact stress which is defined as a product of the predetermined minimum threshold pressure and an amplification factor of the piston. In this manner, a color change in the film arising from impact of the piston accelerated by a blast event provides visual indication that a blast overpressure encountered from the blast event was not less than the predetermined minimum threshold pressure.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 03/19/2013
Patent 8,984,664
Helmet blastometer
A helmet blastometer for characterizing the direction, speed, magnitude, and duration of a blast event to determine the likelihood of blast-induced traumatic brain injury (biTBI). Time of arrival (TOA) gage sensors are mounted on a rigid outer shell of the helmet each producing a TOA signal in response to a fast rising blast induced positive pressure change above a predetermined threshold. A receiver analyzes the positive pressure changes from the gages to determine direction, speed, and magnitude of a blast. Other TOA gauge sensors can be used to produce a TOA signal in response to a negative pressure change below a predetermined threshold. The positive and negative pressure change TOA signals are used to determine blast duration. A second set of internal contact pressure sensors is connected to an inner liner of the helmet to detect contact pressure on a user's head to determine if biTBI has been sustained.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 03/24/2015
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated

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To: Catherine Elizondo<>