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Penn State professor, a North Harford alum, brings interactive brain injury information to Harford Lacrosse Camp

Over the past two weeks, a few hundred boys and girls participated in another Harford Lacrosse Camp, held annually at the Harford County 4-H Camp site at Rocks in Street.

The 41st camp overall ran Monday through Thursday, and campers in grades first to 12th had options to stay overnight. Two hundred boys and 120 girls took part in this year camps.

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This year, too, campers were learning about injuries associated with the brain.

Reuben Kraft, a former camper who is associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Penn State University, attended the camps to work with campers interactively with his Sideline Science project.

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Kraft is a 1998 graduate of North Harford High School and he obtained his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in the 2009-10 time frame.

“That was when Iraq and Afghanistan were going on, so brain injuries were a big problem,” Kraft said. “So, I started working on modeling brain injury then.”

Kraft, who started at Penn State in 2013, said he continued to work on the military, with contracts with the Department of Defense, but then he started to go into sports. “There’s obviously a problem there, too,” Kraft said.

Kraft’s display was set up in three sections. There’s the section about the brain, which is targeting the younger campers. “The kids totally get it, it’s the parents you have to worry about,” Kraft joked.

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Kraft has interactive displays to talk about anatomy of the brain and then it gets into the bottom line … what happens to your brain when you get hit?

“The skull might move, but the brain wobbles around inside,” Kraft said. To document these results, Kraft brings out what he calls a smart mouth guard. Accelerometers, gyroscopes, Bluetooth, batteries; all embedded in here,” Kraft said.

Kraft said there are a number of startups around the world making these mouth guards, which are not for sale.

Kraft said they put these mouth guards in paratroopers and they were jumping out of chinooks, so they were measuring that.

The mouth guards are cased, during and after individual use. Guards are cleaned by UV light.

To test the mouth guards, campers can hit a dummy with a mouth guard inserted. The strike can be on top of the head or to the facial area.

“It’s 49 G’s, so that’s a pretty good hit and your at 1,826 radiants per second square, which is a rotational,” Kraft said. “So, the way brain injuries work and what the kids have been learning is that you can have a brain injury not just from an impact. You can get hit in the chest, for example, and still have that rotational motion, those radiants per second square.”

Kraft said his specialty is computational modeling. “We essentially want to create a computational model of each players brain,” Kraft said. “It’s been five to six years in development.”

With a selfie, Kraft says they can create a three-dimensional surface of your head; one with hair and one that’s bald. “We use that bald version to create your individual head model. We store that in your user account and it just sits there until we get a measurement,” Kraft said. “The data comes in from the mouth guard, we pull in your geometry, your unique head, and we can simulate that.”

“This is in fact the only way to know what happens inside the brain, the only way in the world right now,” Kraft said. “The girls are actually really smart, they said, what if we could hook something onto our head gear or wear something that could see in the brain? That’s a great idea, like a mobile MRI machine, but that technology is not anywhere close.”

“A couple of them, it’s funny, have been asking if they could use their concession stand money to buy one. I got a good kick out of that,” Kraft said.

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