Military background spurs Missouri S&T explosives engineering Ph.D. student’s research on traumatic brain injury

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While in the Marine Corps, Missouri S&T explosives engineering Ph.D. student Barbara Rutter saw the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on her fellow soldiers’ lives firsthand.
Those experiences led Rutter to devote her graduate research to the relationship between physical building damage and TBI occurrence, so that the military can easily determine if an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion has caused such an injury.
“It’s really difficult to quickly assess people’s injuries in combat after an IED has gone off,” says Rutter. “Being able to give the military an easy guide to identify the severity of the TBI right away allows them to start preventative treatments immediately.”
With funds from a U.S. Department of Defense grant, Rutter is working with Dr. Catherine Johnson, assistant professor of explosives engineering, to investigate how exposure to explosives affects the brain. They’re mapping blast waves that reflect off the ground and damage structures in an explosion.
A partnership with the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs allows Johnson and Rutter to use the blast model to better understand behavioral and neuropathological changes to people with blast-induced TBIs.
Johnson says the ultimate goal of the research is to eventually improve the quality of life for anyone with a traumatic brain injury, from athletes to car crash victims.
“This sort of brain trauma is extremely difficult to diagnose,” Johnson says. “Experimental models can provide insights into the basic mechanisms underlying what for many remains an ‘invisible’ injury.”
Much of the related research on explosives and brain trauma is conducted using shock tubes, a tunnel-like device in which blast waves can be directed at sensors to mimic explosions, using compressed gas rather than detonation.
S&T’s Experimental Mine, though, offers enough open space above ground to perform open-field blasting, which can more …

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