Whitewater death inspires students to create safer helmet

With support from a grieving father and injury prevention researchers, two Johns Hopkins engineering students have designed and fabricated a new whitewater recreation helmet to better protect rafters and kayakers from life-threatening head injuries. The prototype and specifications will be patented by a nonprofit foundation that plans to mass-produce and sell the headgear at cost. Injury prevention experts also hope the project will bolster efforts to adopt stronger safety standards for whitewater helmets, similar to those in place for bicycle helmets and other sports gear.

The issue was brought to the attention of Johns Hopkins by Gil Turner, a Park City, Utah, resident whose 22-year-old son, Lucas Brandon Turner, died in 1998 while kayaking on the Payette River in Idaho. He was an expert whitewater kayaker, but somehow he was thrown into the river, Turner said. The force of the water pushed him head-first into a large boulder. He would have survived if his helmet had stayed in place, but it slipped backward and exposed his forehead. He sustained a fatal blow to the center of his forehead. The incident led Turner, a retired businessman, to found the Whitewater Research and Safety Institute, which co-funded the safer helmet development project with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The job of designing and fabricating the whitewater helmet was handed to two seniors enrolled in the Department of Mechanical Engineering's Senior Design Project course: Michael Cordeiro, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering major from Easton, Md., and Chang Lee, 22, of Atlanta, who was completing a dual major in biomedical engineering and engineering mechanics.

The undergraduates were asked to study head injuries that occurred in whitewater sports and to design a helmet that would better absorb shocks and prevent injuries. The helmet had to be lightweight (less than 30 ounces), buoyant in w

Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University

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