Football helmet safety has been a hot topic in the last couple of years, with even the president weighing in on the debate. Now, bioengineering and packaging science researchers at Clemson University are partnering with two North Carolina-based companies to provide the next generation of helmet materials to the sports industry. The researchers are investigating the efficacy of “Innegra H yarns,” which combine high-strength fibers (such as carbon fiber) with Innegra S fibers to create hybrid yarns with unique characteristics. The Innegra H yarns have been shown to significantly increase the impact resistance of fiber-reinforced composites, resulting in safer and stronger composite structures. This research could end up changing the materials currently used in football helmets.

The Clemson researchers are working with Innegra Technologies of Greenville, N.C. and B&W Fiber Glass of Shelby, N.C., to evaluate whether Innegra-based composites may provide improved head protection to athletes involved in contact sports like football. Innegra-based composites are already used in high impact applications including hockey sticks and whitewater kayaks. If proven successful, the Innegra H yarns may be used in a number of applications where safety is a top priority, including sporting equipment and automobiles.

“A majority of the improvements in head protection have focused on padding or adjustments to the shape of the helmet, but few, if any, changes have been made to the materials used in the shell of the helmet,” said John DesJardins, an assistant professor in bioengineering. “This study could very well change the entire thought process involved with the design of high-impact head protection and the materials used to manufacture helmets.”

Clemson’s partnership with the companies is expected to last into early 2015.