Fort Mill

Experiment focuses on concussions

CorrespondentMarch 26, 2013 

— Springfield Middle School seventh-grader Vince Catan won the Piedmont Region III Science Fair (Middle Level) with his experiment on football-helmet safety.

The competition involved students in grades one through 12 who represented public, private and home schools in Cherokee, Chester, Lancaster, Spartanburg, Union and York counties.

Vince’s project is nominated to compete in the Broadcom MASTERS – Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars – in Washington, D.C.

Vince wisely took his science teacher’s advice to conduct his project on a topic that interested him.

“When choosing a topic, we encourage them to choose something they like and are passionate about,” said Gail Vawter, Springfield Middle school science teacher. “We tell them to think of a problem they have experienced with that topic and to come up with a way to test it.

“Problem-based learning is a great way to teach the scientific method in action.”

“There were a lot of kids with concussions on the football team this season, so I thought I could do something with helmets,” said Vince, who plays linebacker and tight end on the Springfield football team.

His brother Nick suggested the project’s title, “Here Comes the Boom,” which is the song they listen to before a football game “to get pumped up.”

Vince decided to test his school-issued helmet against a more specialized concussion-prevention helmet, the Riddell Speed helmet. The idea was not hard to come up with, but experiment intricacies were difficult, he said.

“I thought I would just drop the helmet, but then I didn’t know how to measure everything,” Vince said.

Questions on what material to use to represent the brain, how to create an impact and other issues made Vince think he might have to abandon the idea and come up with a new topic.

Vawter encouraged him to keep trying, and Vince eventually came up with the winning experiment. He used a Styrofoam mannequin head with a hollowed out space for the brain, then placed a plastic container of soft gel beads in the hollow space to simulate the brain. The two helmets were placed on the head and hung from his garage ceiling with rope.

Then Vince created a football player to crash into the helmet.

“I took two 2-by-4s and screwed them together and tied two 25-pound weights to it. Then I put my shoulder pads on it and hung it from the beams in the garage with an eye hook,” said Vince.

He then pulled the “player” back to a specific height and swung it into the helmet.

Two impacts were noted: The first impact was the player into the helmet; the second was the helmet into the garage wall, which represented the ground.

After 20 trial collisions, Vince’s results showed that three times as many gel beads broke inside the general school helmet as in the concussion-prevention helmet.

Based on his research, Vince said, he now hopes to create a safer environment with new helmets for his team, either through the school’s athletic booster club or by soliciting Riddell for helmet donations.

Karin Janick is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Karin? Email her at

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