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Student-Built Device Could Help Athletes ‘Stay in the Game’

By Martha Bushong on February 6, 2017

According to NCAA statistics, 1 in 13 female athletes experience a torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in the knee joint. It’s an epidemic few are talking about. Few, that is, except for an enterprising team of students in the Volgenau School of Engineering’s Systems Engineering Program.

Team members Amr Attyah, Maribeth Burns, Sam Miller, and Andrew Tesnow, all systems engineering majors, started their research by building a simulation model of the knee. They then introduced failure mechanisms, five noncontact and three contact ones, to test the model.

Mason student systems engineers Samuel Miller (left to right), Andrew Tesnow, Amr Attyah, and Maribeth Burns demonstrate their ACL prototype. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Based on the failure mechanisms, the students started to experiment with ways to prevent ACL tears. The whole idea was to reduce the force placed on the ACL from the shank, or shinbone. They found that form and position of the body while landing, stopping short, and cutting are key factors.

The team proposed coupling angle and acceleration sensors in a knee sleeve with pressure sensors in the shoe. Based on data from the sensors, a tiny microcomputer calculates an estimate of the tibial shear force. When the force exceeds a certain threshold, it beeps to alert the user of the danger approaching.

The goal is to provide athletes with real-time feedback of their body position and form while landing, stopping, and cutting in a game so they can adjust the way they play.

“This was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” says Burns, the team leader. “I have so much more confidence in myself as an engineer and as a person. And hopefully we can help some athletes stay in the game.”

The students are rapidly developing a prototype and have started testing it.

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