2016: Ciren to the Rescue

CIREN to the Rescue

Blacklight simulations give new insight to crash injuries, better prevention

Why It’s Important: Over 33,000 Americans die in motor vehicle crashes annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Modern restraint systems have decreased deaths, but some deaths and injuries remain—and restraints themselves can cause some injuries. “Crash-test dummies” can help engineers design safer cars but provide only limited information about the forces experienced by the body in an impact. Improved computer models of vehicle crashes can predict how restraints and other safety systems could work better. They could also help researchers to duplicate the effects of thousands of changes that would be far too slow to test in physical crash tests.


There’s really limited information you can get from a crash-test dummy—you get only about 20 data points. Our human body model gives us much more, predicting injuries in organs that aren’t in that dummy, such as lung contusions. —Ashley A. Weaver, Wake Forest University

How PSC Helped: The Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN) has created a database of real-world vehicle crashes for researchers to test using computer models. Ashley A. Weaver of Wake Forest University, a CIREN center, used XSEDE’s Extended Collaborative Support Service to select PSC’s Blacklight supercomputer to run thousands of simulations drawn from hundreds of cases in virtual autos simulating the Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Cobalt. Using the Total Human Model for Safety, they showed that the model can reproduce real-world injury patterns and predict details that crash-test dummies can’t provide. Along the way they showed how injury-causing stress moves from the foot to the lower leg as a driver’s head comes forward into a frontal airbag, and that more reclined seating positions can lead to higher risk of head and chest injuries. Weaver and colleagues published their initial findings in Traffic Injury Prevention in October 2015.


PSC has been involved in industrial-related projects like CIREN almost since its inception. A partnership with aluminum manufacturer Alcoa began in 1987, with PSC computing resources helping optimize the design of the familiar modern, lightweight aluminum beverage can. Another fruit of this partnership was the design of the aluminum “space-frame” construction of the Plymouth Prowler and the Audi A8 autos in 1998. By performing initial design steps on PSC’s Cray C90, Alcoa developed these components at a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars and weeks of trial-and-error design. These projects were even more important for Alcoa’s bigger picture: with plastics challenging aluminum’s domination of lightweight, high-strength structural materials at the time, supercomputing helped keep the metal competitive and then some.