Mizzou mechanical engineering students create new sports safety equipment material for senior capstone project 

May 21, 2024

From left, Luke Sanders, Henry Hupp, Grant Coffey, Mason Andrasko, Nicholas Rose, Robert Schulte 

The Project

One group of mechanical engineering students were motivated by a fatal accident in a high school baseball game to develop a new material with the potential to save lives.

“About 15 years ago, a southern Missouri high school baseball player was up to the plate and a wild pitch came in,” Nicholas Rose said. “He turned his back, like he was supposed to, and the ball struck him on the back of the neck right below the helmet. He later died of these injuries.”

All six students in the group are sports fans, so they wanted to pursue a project related to that field. Their initial research showed that despite a wide variety of safety equipment in the market, there was a lack of equipment specifically designed to protect the back of the neck.

“We wanted to create something that would protect one of the most vulnerable areas of the human body, the cervical spine,” Luke Sanders said. “This area has a high potential to be injured and have that injury cause lasting damage.”

The Process

The capstone was a product development-style project, so many of the engineering concepts they applied came from that realm of the field.

“We employed computer-aided design (CAD) modelling, or modelling for 3D printing, force analysis, instrumentation and collecting data using our accelerometer and materials selection,” Robert Schulte said.

Team member Henry Hupp emphasized that many of these skills will be useful in their future careers.

“The team also practiced skills like time management and working on a budget,” he said.

The Outcome

The team’s final product was a dual-layered structured fabric. The new material was paired with neoprene foam for players’ comfort and placed inside a fabric sleeve. Players then wear that sleeve around their necks like a neck gaiter.

“The way it was designed, the geometric shape is very strong during compression,” Mason Andrasko said. “So, when a baseball impacts the fabric, it is compressed and the forces are absorbed.”

“From our collected data, we derived acceleration versus time, and then from there the impact forces,” Grant Coffey said. “In the end, we were able to reduce the impact force when using our products by 30 newtons when compared to a certified helmet.”

Learn more about mechanical engineering at Mizzou!

Read about other capstone projects here.