Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
One of Raj Prabhu’s earliest childhood memories is of watching a millipede move across the ground during preschool. He studied how each set of its legs moved precisely in sync. He commented to his teacher about the continuous wavelike motion that millipedes made while walking, instead of each leg being independent of each other. His teacher praised him for being so observant, and from then on, he told people he wanted to become a scientist.
Prabhu’s family is well-educated, and in the 1960s, his mother was one of the first women in southern India to receive an undergraduate degree in an engineering field. Most of his close family members have some form of bachelor’s or master’s degree, but Prabhu was the first to attain a Ph.D.
What was your career path?
I completed my B. Tech (Chemical Engineering) from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
When Prabhu decided to leave India in 2002, he was offered graduate student positions from places like Akron University and Michigan State, but he said he ultimately decided on Mississippi State because of the research opportunities.
He went on to get his master’s and then a doctoral degree in mechanical and computational engineering.
“What kept me here were the opportunities that were available through research projects, student mentoring and the team of researchers that I have had the privilege of working with,” Prabhu said.
What do you do?
Now Prabhu works full time for MSU as an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, as well as for the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. His main passion lies in “finding exciting solutions for human health-related problems.”
When asked about what excites him most about his work, he said it’s definitely his current research. He is part of a team focusing on effects and prevention of traumatic brain injuries. Prabhu leads the university’s research on the finite element analysis of diverse injury scenarios to the human head, such as a car crash, blast or blunt impact. He also is currently involved in developing physics-based constitutive description for biomaterials, as well as being part of collaborative research in the areas of computational biomechanics, infant head trauma and secondary injuries arising from traumatic events.
“I love being here at MSU and the important work being carried out at ABE and CAVS,” Prabhu said.
How does your work benefit the community?
Infant head trauma is one of the leading causes of death in young children, but there is not enough biomechanical data available to gain a full understanding of injuries to specific areas of the brain. With a better understanding of the infant brain, scientists and companies can design products that are more effective in protecting infants during harmful situations, such as car crashes. It also could improve the investigation of infant deaths from head trauma and provide clearer data for use in criminal investigations.
Rush is among the Mississippi State University students and faculty trying to build a soccer helmet that is as close to concussion-proof as possible. Helmets are put on a test dummy and positioned to take blows from different heights and speeds.
What they’re doing at MSU is groundbreaking because most other research focuses on how the helmet holds up to outside forces. Here, they’re focused on how the brain is affected inside this helmet.
MSU is looking at how the brain reacts during each kind of strike, and building the helmet around those factors.
“This simulation here is actually a simulation of a rear impact which is a worst case type of impact for an athlete in football,” Dr. Raj Prabhu said.
The mechanical engineering department built a helmet to keep the shock away from the brain. The lining is the same material NASA uses in space equipment. The shell, Kevlar, is the same stuff lightweight bullet proof vests are made of.
They researched how animals like the ram survive hit after hit without suffering brain damage to complete the design.