Tag Archives: Horizons

Me – The Great American Quarterback


IMG_0866Adam Shaw – the new High School Quarterback in Training.                                                                     Who said shoulder pads had gone out of fashion.

At school I played in the rugby team. But at my school you only played rugby if you were rubbish at football. We were so bad – at one point my captain got so confused he ran the wrong way down the pitch. I saw him run past me and delicately put the ball down across our own line, thus scoring points for the other side. This may have been the first time in the history of rugby that such a feat has been achieved. In fact it wasn’t a feat so much as an anti-feat.

I tell you this only to explain that I am not used to the triumphs and kudos that come from sporting achievements or the all-round adoration that attaches to the macho stars of sports.

However rather later in life than it comes to most, in this programme I was to become the quarter back star of an all-American football team.

I was there to test a new safety device which is supposed to reduce head injuries. It comes in the unlikely and rather underwhelming format of a sticker.

The lab behind the invention is based at the Simon Fraser University  Mechatronics Department – which is mechanical and electrical engineering combined.  Daniel Abram has been busy carrying out research to see if it’s possible to reduce injury to that fragile organ, the brain, which is made up of multi-billion neurons.

Adam and Daniel Abram, CEO BrainshieldDaniel Abram – leading the team to invent a sticker to help protect against brain injuries

I have to say when I was told we were visiting the lab – to see a company that has invented a sticker that you put onto a helmet that improves its safety, I was very, very sceptical that it would work.

Daniel told me there’s no magic to his team’s invention which is called the Brainshield sticker. It is all, he says, based on science.

To test the device, we put an American football helmet in a clamp and dropped a heavy block on it to see what happened. It was imitating the effect that a far too cool American teenager might have on my when he jumped on me to wrest a football from my hands.

In the lab under test conditions, we could see what happened with the impact on a dummy head inside a helmet without the Brainshield sticker. The head itself rotated causing potential damage to the brain. However once we put an ordinary sticker on the helmet and repeated the experiment, much to my surprise there was a lot less rotation of the dummy head. That reduced the sharp twisting to the brain that leads to injury.  The spread of force also means there’s also much less compression to the brain.

The sticker is made of microengineered layers. The layers are stacked on each other. And once it receives an impact, the layers move across each other. And by moving, the sticker doesn’t allow the phenomenon that causes that sharp twisting of the brain. Lots of layers within the sticker all shear apart absorbing the twisting motion –so the sticker takes the pain and your brain doesn’t. At least that’s the claim.

There are currently no independent research results for Brainshield, but they’re on the way.

So having tested it in the lab, in the spirit of Horizons, my producer thought it would be a wonderful idea for me to put the sticker to the test on the field. We headed to Handsworth High and their head coach Jay Prepchuk – who was about to put me through my paces as the teams newest yet oldest Quarterback.

He helped me into my kit and then much to my surprise – he started hitting me around the head  with the words ” This last test is just to kinda smack you. How does that feel?”

“Well, you’re hitting me in the head! Stop doing that, it’ll be fine!” I replied in what I hoped was a suitable sense of British reserve.

Adam and Jay Prepchuk, Football Coach

Coach Jay Prepchuk and his new Quarterback for the Wandsworth School team

Jay says the stickers have helped reduce the number of head injuries the team has had. That itself is not enough to prove the value of them – but the evidence we saw was certainly intriguing and looked like it would help.

One thing is for sure, the stickers might save your brain, they don’t make a middle aged Englishman a great American footballer.





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Sometimes you come across a fact that is so shocking you can’t quite believe it.

In South Africa in the past 12 years 90,000 fires have robbed people of their homes and meant that 9 children have been burnt to death every day. That is such an extra ordinary statistic that it is hard to believe it is still happening in 2014 in one of Africa’s most advanced countries.

Around eleven percent of the population of South Africa live in shacks in informal settlements. They use paraffin to cook on and candles for light. The stoves are often unsafe and when fire breaks out, the consequences can be disastrous leading to homelessness and death.

For my recent programme investigating the world of new materials, I began my journey in the makeshift shanty town of Du Noon, with the fire station commander, Theo Layne who for the past 26 years has been fighting an average of 2 to 3 shack fires a day meaning he has faced thousands of shack fires.

The statistics are horrifying, and with parents at work, the children left in schools and crèches are particularly vulnerable to these fires. With this in mind a local non-profit initiative was established to alleviate the crisis and help these communities. They are using an innovation in material technology to combat the flames.

David Grier is the founder of the Cipla Foundationwhich is introducing a material to be used in Shanty towns which could save thousands of lives. They are beginning by introducing the material in new creches which they are establishing.

The solution they came up with is using vermiculite, which is exfoliated rock. The fire capabilities of vermiculite, have been known for years so the material itself is not new, what could be revolutionary is the use of the material in homes. The vermiculite is then mixed with calcium silicate and a bit of potassium, and under heat it’s recompressed in to a board. That is then skinned on the outer and inner side with a thin steel outer layer. And this makes up the pre-fabricated walls of the buildings they then construct.

David told me that the walls could withstand temperatures of up to 1200 degrees. I was willing to believe him but he insisted that I test it. Much to my horror they gave me a blow torch and while David put his hand on the back of the 4cm thick board, I tried to blow a burning hole in the front of it. Flames burst over the board and David cooly held his hand centimetres away from the burning torch which could have set him alight. There was screaming, but it was me – scared stiff of the flame thrower I was now directing at David.

Amazingly after a minute under a blow torch at around a thousand degrees centigrade the other side was still perfectly cool as was David. I was clearly the only one that was worried.


The Cipla Foundation already have 15 crèche units in action, keeping over 200 children safe, and their goal is to replace 1500 Centres over the next 10 years.

Everyone deserves to know their children are safe in school or childcare, and this product, with its amazing fire resistant properties, goes a long way to doing just that.

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