For prospective PhD students

PhD project in Mechanical Engineering

The development of rugby helmets to reduce concussions in child rugby

  • PhD project, rugby helmets, Keith

    Credit:, Phil Walter/Getty Images

Concussion is the most common injury suffered at the top level rugby, with statistics on some countries (eg: the UK) showing that one in five premiership matches results in a concussion. Studies also show a clear link between repeated concussion and early-onset dementia, depression and other neurological diseases. Research also shows children to be more at risk than adults. This project aims to reduce concussions in rugby.

In both 2018 and 2019 a final year engineering team at UC designed and built a test rig for assessing linear and rotational forces on a headform. Then with this rig they were able to measure the protective potential of existing headgear to linear impacts. In the near future this will be extended to the protective potential for rotational acceleration impacts.

  • Keith Alexander, Mech Eng, Rugby Helmet

    Left: Headform. Middle: Drop test setup showing the different orientations tested.

2018 FYP Poster: 2018 Impact-Protective Headgear for Contact Sports

2019 FYP Poster: 2019 Prototype Rugby Headgear 

These two projects have been part of a larger collaborative program being undertaken with Sports and health Sciences at UC, as well as with international investigators. This umbrella program is working towards fitting out a whole child rugby team in 2020, with trial helmets and instrumented mouth guards, both to mitigate and to measure potentially concussive impacts during play. Any significant impacts will be assessed after play for any subsequent neurological effects.

Next steps

This program aims to more fully understand concussive events in child rugby, and work towards potential solutions. Consequently the aim of this PhD project is to:

  • Share in the research of the umbrella project
  • Gather data that will support the design of impact-mitigating helmets for children playing rugby
  • Build and test impact-mitigating rugby helmets for children


Nick Draper

Physiology Lab G140 Kirkwood
Internal Phone: 93878

Keith Alexander

Civil Mechanical E523
Internal Phone: 92213

Digby Symons

Associate Professor
Civil & Mechanical Engineering E537
Internal Phone: 92171

Natalia Kabaliuk

Civil & Mechanical Engineering Rm E508
Internal Phone: 92970

Want to join us and do your PhD?

Contact Prof Nick Draper (03 369 3878, or A/Prof Digby Symons (021 0846 9614, to discuss.