Outfitting Football Helmets With Magnets Could Reduce Concussions

Strong magnets can repel at least 300 lbs of force, preventing heads from colliding

Photo: Joshua Weisberg/Icon SMI/Corbis

When two football players butt heads on the field, even with protective helmets, players can suffer, in the short term, concussions and, in the long term, degenerative brain diseases. These dangers have become big news in recent years, and one Sunday, while watching football and stopping at the fridge for a beer, neuroscientist Raymond Colello had an idea for reducing these dangerous head injuries: Why not outfit football helmets with powerful magnets? 

The repelling force of just a single one-pound magnet made from the rare earth element neodymium can deflect at least 300 pounds of force, ScienceNOW writes. A collision of 100 g's is enough to cause a concussion, and, according to Colello's calculations, the magnets would reduce a 140 g hit down to 88 g's. That's about 8 g's lower than the best helmets on the field today, ScienceNOW writes. 

Colello calculated that adding magnets to helmets would cost abut $100 per helmet—definitely a price the NFL could afford to pay. The trick, however, would be making sure the magnets were universally adopted, since the repelling trick only works when two magnets meet.

On the downside, the magnetized helmets, of course, would not help prevent collisions with the ground or with elbows, knees or other body parts. But with an estimated 60 percent of football concussions caused by head-on-head bangs, ScienceNOW writes, the magnets could at least put a significant dent in the number of brains that get jostled on the field. 

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