The art of science and the science of art.

Woodpeckers Should Play Football


Thanksgiving is coming up, which means two things: turkey (or tofurkey, as the case may be) and football. That's the United States in a nutshell, I suppose. But this widely beloved sport has a dark side that we're becoming increasingly aware of: traumatic brain injuries.

The current helmets do little to disperse the shockwaves these men are exposed to as they slam together. Seeking inspiration from nature, researchers are looking to animals that make a nice living slamming their heads into things, such as woodpeckers. Woodpeckers are able to sustain about 10 times the force on their heads that we can, with no ill effects. Sounds like we can learn something from them.

At the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, where I work as a writer and illustrator, I sat down with Professor Veronica Eliasson to talk about this woodpecker research. She said they were going to study the exact forces the woodpecker's brain cavity experiences from the pecking it does. As a person with a science background, I said, "So are you going to get a bunch of woodpecker skulls and slam them into things?" Haha, no. Oh, Katie. Your science is showing. This is engineering. They don't need actual woodpecker skulls. They build replicas.

I made the below video to outline the project and its goals. I'm still an animation novice, but with each new project, I'm getting better. Hope you enjoy!

And if you watch any football this weekend with a belly full of turkey in a room full of relatives, remember what these men are doing to their brains for our enjoyment.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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