Science and Technology News

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Armed with Science — Protected Too!

Dr. Reuben H. Kraft is an expert on neurotrauma biomechanics at the Army Research Lab. He is the recipient of the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for his research in computational mechanics.

If neuroscience appeals to you, you should consider Forensic Science careers and make a difference in law enforcement using science!

Soldiers often find themselves exposed to extreme environments and threats. I view Warfighters as “ultra athletes” that require the best protection that science can offer. From a fundamental science perspective, understanding how the human body responds in extreme environments is a multidisciplinary topic where there is much to learn. For the military extreme environment there exists a fundamental link between understanding injury mechanisms, such as bone fracture or ligament tearing, to developing Soldier protection. My research is focused on understanding injury mechanisms and developing advanced computational approaches for modeling the human body response in extreme environments so that unrivaled Solider protection is enabled. The most intriguing part of this research is the cross-cutting relationships between many different disciplines: mechanics, computer science, materials, network science and neuroscience. Together, these create a detailed picture of the biomechanics and injury mechanisms that occur in humans at high rates of loading – in some cases hundreds of times greater than a civilian car accident.

In one of my research areas, my group uses advanced numerical modeling techniques to develop high-resolution anatomically accurate models of the human brain to understand trauma. At the end of the day, these models will help design the next generation of head protection against blast, blunt impact and ballistic threats – and at the same time be comfortable for the Soldier.  In this effort, we apply my background in computational mechanics and multi-scale modeling to simulate diffuse axonal injury, an important injury mechanism associated with brain trauma. This research has led my group into new areas of scientific research, including a new method of combining finite element and connectome-based approaches to evaluate time-evolving changes in brain structure.  But we don’t stop there. Using this information, my group has been working with ARL’s Translational Neuroscience group to attempt to understand what this may mean for the Soldiers cognitive state. In other words, if we can model the biomechanical structural damage, what effect does that damage have on the functional brain outcomes and cognition? You might call this the “so-what” question.

In addition to brain trauma research, my group has also been conducting research in the area of blast-induced lower extremity injury – a major concern to the Warfighter today due to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) buried in the ground. IEDs are detonated underneath our vehicles leading the so-called underbody blast problem. Using Army super computers for massively parallel simulations, we have shown that we can capture various types of injuries such as transverse closed bone fractures and comminuted bone failure. We have been exploring how various injury mechanisms change and transition as the loading conditions change. This research is already pointing towards new concepts for Soldier protection. Specifically, inspired from computed bone failure patterns in the lower extremities during an underbody blast event, multiple novel protection strategies have been identified such as cancaneal crush protection, rapid extremity confinement and energy shift guidance.

As my group continues to push the science to improve these predictive capabilities, many new protection technologies will emerge ultimately providing unparalleled protection for our Warfighters.

About the Author:
Dr. Reuben H. Kraft has provided significant leadership and vision for ARL’s research in computational high-rate injury biomechanics for soldier protection. He is a 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientist and Engineers for his research in computational mechanics. His work in multi-scale modeling techniques applied to armor materials and high-rate injury biomechanics is contributing to the protection of U.S. Soldiers and its allies. Invited by the U.S. Medical Research and Materiel Command to serve on the Department of Defense Computational Brain Injury Modeling Expert Panel, he provides critical leadership for steering basic and applied biomedical research. As Principle Investigator of the ARL Computational Injury Biomechanics Laboratory, Dr. Kraft helps pave the way for new biomechanics modeling approaches across the Department of Defense. As an expert on neurotrauma biomechanics, he serves as one of four group leaders for a Department of Defense Integrated Research Team that spans across the Army, Navy, and Air Force for developing a deployable diagnostic device for mild traumatic brain injury.

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