This second episode of the 2019 R&D season of the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) Just Science podcast series consist of an interview with Dr. Brittany Coats, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, who discusses her use of fundamental mechanics to predict infant skull fracture patterns.
Dr. Coats has spent years researching biomechanics as a means of understanding the difference between accidental and abusive trauma, especially in infants. In this interview, she discusses the role of experience in understanding head trauma, as well as her personal efforts to create a computational model that can predict how an infant's skull will fracture in an accident. Dr. Coats first discusses her academic and professional background, notably what led her into a focus on skull injuries in infants and children. Regarding scientific research on child skull fractures, she notes that it is more practical to study pediatric skull injuries that result from actual accidents, because adult witnesses can provide reasonably accurate descriptions of a fall, and this is then compared with how resulting fracture or injury patterns are caused by accidents with various characteristics. Such scientific knowledge can then lead to suspicions of an abusive injury when parental false descriptions of an accidental fall do not match the injury patterns. The interview also addresses the relatively rapid change in the characteristics of pediatric skull structure, which must be taken into account in analyzing the match between an injury and its cause.