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Engineering goggles to protect a wrestlers eyes

Greg Layser, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, was a high school wrestler and remains an avid fan of the sport.

Jon Trenge '05 is an All-American NCAA wrestler who needed Layser's help.

During his freshman wrestling season, Trenge was sidelined by a detached retina. He thought his wrestling career had ended, but the efforts of his supporters, including Layser, enabled him to rise to the top of the NCAA and secure a spot in the Lehigh wrestling record book.

Because of his eye injury, Trenge received permission from the NCAA to wear goggles when he competed. Until this season, however, the goggles caused Trenge problems when he wrestled. They often broke, cutting him. And opponents pulled and poked at them during matches.

"Both intentionally and unintentionally, opposing wrestlers used to bang my goggles with their head," Trenge said. "That pushed the goggles into my face, causing me to bleed around my eyes. I think the goggles hurt my overall aggressiveness too."

Greg Strobel, head wrestling coach, contacted Chuck Smith, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, to ask if someone in the department could devise a better system. Smith referred Strobel to Layser.

When they met, Layser and Trenge had a clear idea of what the goggles needed to do - prevent cuts and bruises to Trenge and his opponents, be comfortable and durable, and allow him to stay at the top of his game.

Layser and Trenge tested a variety of sport goggles. Layser studied the stress concentration of Trenge's existing goggles to find out exactly where the failures occurred. Based on his work with polymers, he calculated and made visual representations of the stress concentration. This allowed him to see where the goggles malfunctioned and needed to be rectified.

Removing the stress concentrations from the goggles provided a solution. Layser removed the extended tabs on the goggles, relocated straps, and added an additional strap in the headgear. To prevent the goggles from fogging up, he drilled small holes on the sides of the lenses.

Trenge's old goggles, which cost about $100 a pair, had been lasting him about one month. Trenge began wearing the new goggles on Nov. 4, 2004, and has not needed to replace them since. He entered the NCAA tournament as a number-one seed and finished third in his weight class, helping the Lehigh squad finish eighth overall.

After Trenge's final match, he left his shoes, headgear and goggles on the mat, symbolizing his retirement from competition and from a collegiate career in which he recorded 133 victories - the most in Lehigh's storied team history.

Though Layser had to satisfy only one client - Trenge - the success of his system has encouraged him to consider going after a bigger market.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, sports cause more than 40,000 eye injuries each year - 90 percent of which could be prevented with protective eyewear. Wrestlers are prone to eye injuries, but although they are required to wear headgear, no eye-protection system for wrestlers has yet been marketed.

Both Layser and Trenge believe there may be a market for such a system, especially for small children whose parents are concerned about safety. And Layser, who has looked into patenting the goggles, says they could be tailored to the needs of wrestlers who use corrective lenses.

Layser holds a B.S. in physics from Mansfield University and earned an M.S. in mechanical engineering from Lehigh last year. His Ph.D. dissertation focuses on the applications of controlled melt manipulation techniques used during the processing of polymers. He is particularly interested in techniques that could be used in medical applications.

By Blair Tapper '05

Posted on Tuesday, April 05, 2005

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