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Biomedical Engineers Work Towards Detecting Likelihood of Concussions

Figuring out when someone is suffering from a concussion is extremely important and while there have been many advances recently, people are still investigating ways to detect concussions faster.


In order to address the issue of concussions, a biomedical engineering senior with a concentration in mechanical design, Taylor O'Donoghue, is working on a senior project developing an indication device that goes on football helmets to help detect concussions.


At the beginning of winter quarter, two of O’Donoghue’s professors in the Biomedical Engineering Department, Michael Whitt and Christopher Heylman, assigned her and two other students to work on this project. All of the projects are assigned by the professors at the beginning of the quarter and they either come from an industry sponsor, a faculty sponsor, or are a good self contained engineering project that the professors have in mind.


Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Christopher Heylman, said that the process for assigning students to projects is based on skill sets and getting the right group for the project. As for O'Donoghue’s project they were chosen for that project because of their skills with data collection and analysis.  


“They actually designed a really cool mountable accelerometer that goes on an existing helmet and they pull the data off that, and based on that data they have a mathematical model that predicts the likelihood of concussion,” Heylman said. “It's not so much on the manufacturing side of things and more on the data analysis kind of thing.”


Currently, the group is processing and analyzing data that was tested in the biomechanics lab from their sensors after simulating a concussion. They are taking the data from the lab and using a mathematical model that they built the predicts the likelihood of a concussion based on the acceleration of the hit.


For O'Donoghue the hardest part was testing the project because once they had the device ready to go, attaching it to the helmet required a lot of trial and error. They went through two different trials of attachment and those both failed.


This trial and error aspect of the project is her favorite part and one of the things that she likes most about her major and future career.


“I like the idea that just overall you're just given a problem and you have to come up with some sort of solution,” O'Donoghue said.  


O'Donoghue said that watching the project progress and utilizing the skills she learned during her time at Cal Poly has been very rewarding. She said this project has made her realize how useful the content she learned in classes plays out in real world application.


“Seeing how it progresses and problem solving all those different qualities and aspects you have learned over the few years of college are actually being applied and useful and realizing that I am learning relevant things,” O'Donoghue said.


O'Donoghue and her group will be finishing the project at the end of the quarter and she will be walking the stage in spring and finishing up her last few credits in Fall 2019. After graduation O'Donoghue wants to move to Ireland to working in the design engineering or product development field.


Lauryn Luescher

Cal Poly '22

Lauryn is a third year student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, majoring in Journalism and concentrating in Public Relations and minoring in marketing and ethnic studies. She loves going to the beach, hammocking, writing and exploring San Luis Obispo. This year Lauryn is the Senior Editor for Her Campus Cal Poly and spends her free time writing and editing. Lauryn also works with New Student and Transition Programs at Cal Poly and loves orienting new students to college. After college, Lauryn hopes to work for a PR agency or do PR for a food company.
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