Buckeye All-American turns to research to protect against hard hits
NFL vet collaborating with the College of Engineering to study impact protection solutions
Shawn Springs has spent his career focused on impact.
Springs was an All-American and twice earned All-Big Ten honors playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes. After that, he held his ground as cornerback for three teams, made the Pro Bowl and snatched 33 interceptions during his 13-season career in the NFL.
Now, Springs is bringing his drive for impact back to his alma mater, where he is collaborating with university researchers within the College of Engineering to change the game, and science, affecting how we better protect ourselves from concussion and impacts that affect our everyday lives.
Springs is the founder and chief executive of Windpact, a technology and applied science company focused on the analysis, design and implementation of impact protection solutions. The company developed a new impact-mitigating technology and maintains a database of characterized foam materials.
The athlete-turned-entrepreneur hired the company’s first employees in 2015. Before long, Windpact had received grants from the NFL and, more recently, secured a two-year U.S. Department of Defense contract to produce new padding solutions for soldiers’ combat helmets.
“When I first started Windpact, I had no idea of the important role The Ohio State University would play in our growth and success,” Springs said. “Discovering the immense talent and resources that the school has to offer has allowed us to put together one of my all-time favorite teams.”
Researchers at Ohio State have been collaborating with Windpact to characterize materials used for that potentially life-saving technology through the university's Dynamic Mechanics of Materials Laboratory. The lab specializes in mechanical characterization of materials to measure ranges in force and strain rates.
“We work with many companies,” said Amos Gilat, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Dynamic Mechanics of Materials Laboratory. “Shawn’s energy, vision and commitment are contagious and fun to be associated with.”
Offering years of expertise and an array of capabilities, the lab immediately stood out to Springs as a valuable collaborator.
“Dr. Gilat is one-of-a-kind,” he said. “It’s an honor to work with his lab, expanding our knowledge through the techniques his team has developed. Their work is a critical element of our success.”
Jeremy Seidt, a research associate professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, works with Windpact and other companies to conduct tension, compression and shear experiments with the lab’s advanced instrumentation.
“There are a lot of reasons to come here,” Seidt said. “We have a pretty wide range of testing equipment to utilize, including custom devices that nobody else has.”
In the lab, researchers put that equipment to use, applying force to materials and collecting precision data on how they perform under stress.
“The tests proved to Windpact that … characterization of the material over a range of strain rates is necessary in order to design newer versions of their product in an accurate, predictive way,” Seidt said.
Characterizing materials is a key part of Windpact’s operations, Springs said.
“This is critical to our business,” he said. “The characteristics of each foam that we send to Ohio State gives us valuable data that we use in our modeling.”
Springs knows that when developing technology that can be applied far beyond football helmets, from baseball catchers’ masks to combat helmets for U.S. soldiers, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
He was inspired to found the company in part by his own experience with a high-performance product: His child was unharmed in a serious car crash, protected by technology in the baby’s car seat.
Springs, impressed with the impact solution being used in that car seat, had begun exploring the possibility of using the technology in a football helmet. The accident, and the protection the car seat provided, solidified his desire to build Windpact, giving him a platform to improve impact protection across different applications.
Soon after, the Institute for Materials Research connected the company’s team to engineers at Ohio State who could further Windpact’s mission to solve some of the most challenging impact problems.
“My father was a professional athlete, and I followed in his footsteps to Ohio State and the NFL. What it does is put into perspective that, one, life is short and, two, traumatic brain injury is real,” Springs said. “It's real and it is not going away. But there will be innovative companies like Windpact that will continue to work with the brightest minds to help mitigate the impacts. The opportunity to come back to my alma mater to help build my business feels like life is coming full-circle.”