Carnegie Mellon University

Sally Chen with the red team

March 27, 2018

Rethinking the Rink: Sophomore Designs Safer Hockey Rink for Penguins

Concussions a hot topic of conversation in sports—from football to soccer to hockey. To create a safer sporting environment for ice hockey players, 22 students from Carnegie Mellon University, including CEE Sophomore Sally Chen, were asked to create improved dasher board systems that minimize player injury during impact. The week-long Maker Space Rethink the Rink challenge took place in partnership with The Pittsburgh Penguins and Covestro, a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials.

Chen described the brainstorming and implementation processes as both stressful and exciting. “I felt the pressure that came from the school, the Penguins, and Covestro as they were really giving a lot of support in terms of coaching and providing materials,” she said. Chen’s group was tasked with differentiating the ‘give’ that can be provided by the board to puck and players. With many groups working toward the same goal, Chen believed the finished designs would show similarities.  

But at the final presentation, she noted that each group had distinct ideas. “That was really surprising and inspiring. I felt more and more confident that we clearly saw the potential in our ideas to solve the problem without compromising game performance.”
Rethink The Rink is a first-of-its kind project, providing students with a strong opportunity to showcase their critical thinking skills and ingenuity. Chen, a native of Hangzhou, China, said that her education prepared her to be a valuable part of the team—mostly through the building classes she’s taken. “I got a good sense of how to put pieces together and how far the gaps [in the boards] should be.” Chen also utilized experience from her civil engineering courses to determine the best ways to test, control variables, and understand results.

Students of varying degree levels and majors—representing 11 Carnegie Mellon University departments—worked in Hamerschlag Hall’s Maker Space. The experience allowed Chen to learn first-hand from Covestro experts about the materials her team considered using. “For example, [we discovered that] constructing non-linear spring can give the same effect as layers of foams with different densities,” she added.

Proposed solutions were presented to the CEO of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the CEO of Covestro at an event held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. According to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the prototypes will be submitted to both the National Hockey League and USA Hockey for feedback. Future testing by amateur players may take place at the Lemieux Complex’s FedEx Rink.

The ultimate goal is to make hockey a safer sport and to reduce the long-term medical problems caused by repeated head injuries. Hockey-related concussions are commonly caused by fighting and checking into the boards, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

Chen mentioned that she didn’t know the ins and outs of hockey before taking on the project. But after a week of learning the game and potential threats to player safety, she considers herself a fan—despite the cold temperatures on the ice rink. She said the students’ passion for creating a workable solution shined through during final presentations. “We were focused on improving player safety.”

Students in Penguins Dressing Room
Students in Penguins Dressing Room
Red Team
Red Team
Red Team Presents Their Design
Red team presents their design