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Head Health Challenge III

Dr. Willie E. May, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology and Standards and Acting Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology at the press conference announcing the Head Health Challenge III

Guest blog post by Dr. Willie E. May, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology and Standards and Acting Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Today I had the honor of announcing a new public-private partnership, along with the National Football League (NFL), GE, and Under Armour. This unusual group of players is launching an open innovation competition to advance materials that better absorb or dissipate energy. These new materials could improve the performance of protective equipment for athletes, military personnel and first responders.

The announcement was made at a news conference in Phoenix as part of the NFL’s larger annual health and safety presentation for reporters prior to the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 1.

The NFL, GE, Under Armor, and NIST have each contributed $500,000 for a total of $2 million in prize money for the winners of the competition.

During the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit in May 2014, President Obama announced a number of planned new investments from federal agencies, universities, the NFL, and even private donors all focused on lowering the societal cost of concussions and other brain injuries for athletes of all ages, our military forces, and other members of the public.

NIST is proud to join our partners in helping implement the President’s promise and realize his vision.

Over the years, NIST research and collaborations with industry have help create, improve, or better understand many incredible materials including, but not limited to:

  • Fiber optic cables that deliver HD movies to our living rooms
  • Tissue scaffolds used to grow human bone and other tissues
  • Lightweight composites used in aerospace and automobiles
  • Dental implants that look more natural and perform better, and
  • Ultra strong fibers for body armor that protect law enforcement and military personnel.

Because of our long history in materials discovery, characterization, and testing --- we’re very optimistic that this nation-wide call for the best technical ideas for impact absorbing materials can be successful. 

We want to encourage the widest possible array of people and organizations to consider submitting an application. Obviously, we expect to receive applications from sports medicine and protective equipment manufacturers and researchers, but also from the aerospace, automotive, nanomaterials, biomaterials, packaging, and other industries. 

We will begin accepting initial entries on Monday, February 2, at 9 a.m. at

We’re asking challenge contestants to initially send us just a brief abstract describing a material that can better absorb impacts and protect against injuries. The abstracts will be reviewed by materials science experts. If selected as particularly promising, we’ll then ask for a more detailed proposal along with samples of the material.

NIST will conduct rigorous tests on the most promising candidate materials and then a panel of distinguished judges will select up to six semifinalists, who will each receive $250,000 dollars. The semifinalists will then have one year to fine tune and improve their entries. Finally, from the semifinalists, the judges will select one winner for an additional $500,000 grand prize.

Perhaps the greatest reward for the competitors, however, will be the satisfaction of knowing that innovations and discoveries from this challenge competition could help thousands of athletes, military service members, and others improve safety and protect against impact injuries. 

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