Navy’s GelMan Gets a New Brain, Then Blown Up

Research into the effects and mitigation of blast injury takes on a new reality.

Sometimes fake materials are really important. For instance, when you can’t afford the real thing or it just isn’t available. I’m not talking about spray painting your hub caps gold, however important you might find that. It gets even cooler than that. Through many bumps, bruises and bombings, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has reduced material mimicry to a science.

Dr. Jared Baucom of NRL adjusts helmet

Let me introduce you to GelMan. He is NRL’s go-to guy when it comes to detailed analysis of Soldier welfare in the most grueling of tests. He is, “…an experimental test system of the human thorax…” used to assess the biodynamics of, “…blunt forces and blast dynamics.” Not a job for the weak of heart, it’s also no job for anyone with a pulse.

GelMan is designed to accurately mimic human response to battlefield conditions. He is comprised of synthetic bone and tissue coupled with advanced sensors which detect conditions during exposure to blast conditions such as pressure and shrapnel impact. For you Mythbusters fans, this is, well, head and shoulders above the simple ballistic gel models you may be familiar with.
                             Figure 4 Image

GelMan incorporates some of the most advanced sensory science available. The attention which goes into the skeletal and tissue structure is also highly detailed. Understanding how a blast affects living organisms requires accurate replication in the surrogate. Even given that, you still might be surprised at just how much detail goes into it.
Explosive charge near GelMan

As described in a recent press release, GelMan is getting some upgrades. While GelMan has had a polymer brain worthy of a Hollywood horror flick for a while, there is now another level of realism being incorporated. Living brain cells.

The brain cells are cultured from mice and packaged in small containers which can support the cells for up to two weeks. The goal is to test the hypothesis that brain trauma occurs at the cellular level. Medical imaging techniques such as MRI cannot resolve this level of detail.

Physical tests in combination with computational modeling have allowed for the development of improved body armor and helmet designs.  Understanding the blast environment and the effect it has on the Soldier are crucial to optimizing design. Through a barrage of sensors, modeling and ingenuity, understanding and mitigating injury is a very real science, even if it uses “fake” materials.


Images courtesy of the US Naval Research Laboratory