Former Harvard QB Vin Ferrara — a multi-concussion victim as a player — is the brains behind a new football helmet that one researcher has called “the greatest advance in helmet design in 30 years.” From the New York Times’ Alan Schwartz :

Rather than being lined with rows of traditional foam or urethane, Ferrara™s helmet features 18 black, thermoplastic shock absorbers filled with air that can accept a wide range of forces and still moderate the sudden jarring of the head that causes concussion. Moreover, laboratory tests have shown that the disks can withstand hundreds of impacts without any notable degradation in performance, a longtime drawback of helmets™ traditional foam.

Dr. Gerry Gioia, a pediatric neuropsychologist who directs the concussion program at the Children™s National Medical Center in Washington, said Ferrara™s helmet could œtake helmet protection to a whole new level.

œI think it™s very real, Gioia said. œFoams have only had a certain amount of success in absorbing force. Think of what crumple zones in cars meant to reducing injuries. That™s the idea behind this technology ” this does what it™s supposed to do better than any other.

Ferrara said that his company, Xenith LLC, expected the helmet to be available for the 2008 football season ” either produced by Xenith or perhaps by license to an existing manufacturer. The price will be about $350, more than twice the cost of existing headgear. Ferrara, who after graduating from Harvard in 1996 earned medical and business degrees from Columbia, said he expected marketing to focus less on schools, whose budgets are tight, than parents with concern for their child.

Ferrara said he wanted his new shock-absorber helmet design to be only one of several lines of defense against concussions. Mindful that previous helmet improvements have occasionally led athletes to feel a false sense of security and take more risks, he said part of his rollout plan would be to emphasize to players and coaches proper, head-up tackling technique, so that the helmet sees fewer dangerous hits to begin with ” as well as encouraging athletes to admit when they think they might have a concussion.

œThe educational side of it is just as important, if not more important, as the helmet itself, Ferrara said.