WPI Professor Quoted in New York Times Article on Innovative Ski Bindings

Each year, about 20,000 Americans tear their ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) while skiing, costing more than $250 million, according to a recent New York Times article. While skiing in general has grown safer over the past few decades, these costly knee injuries are on the rise.

The Times article reported on a new type of ski binding, the KneeBinding, which includes a lateral heel release in addition to the standard toe release. In the article, Christopher Brown, professor of mechanical engineering at WPI and director of the university’s Surface Metrology Laboratory, noted that while the device is expensive, “if it saves you from an ACL tear, that’s a very inexpensive binding.” The bindings were too late to help Brown’s oldest son, a U.S. Ski Team member, who suffered an ACL injury last year.

Brown, who has studied the KneeBinding, has conducted a number of other research projects related to skiing and has, for several years, taught an undergraduate course, The Technology of Alpine Skiing, which addresses a number of issues in science and engineering—from tribology to machining to biomechanics—using examples from skiing technology and techniques. Students spend part of the course exploring the epidemiology of skiing injuries and calculating of the cost of those injuries to society.

Brown’s interest in skiing stems from his own involvement with the sport. The son of two ski instructors, he has skied throughout his life. An all-American ski racer in college, he captained the ski team at the University of Vermont and coached the team for a few years after graduating, before deciding to pursue graduate study in engineering. According to the Times, he was part of a 1983 skiing research team that first warned of the increasing risk ACL tears.

His research focuses on innovative techniques for examining in extreme detail the geometry of the surfaces of various materials—grinding wheels, potato chips, ancient teeth—to learn about how the surfaces become worn, and what the surface roughness reveals about the material’s behavior. In one ongoing project, he is looking at whether there is a correlation between how the bases of skis are ground and their speed over snow.

January 9, 2009

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