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Made In Hollywood Blog

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May 19, 2009 – 3:45 pm

Polystyrene protection at 180mph

- Posted in Polystyrene Uses, Sport related, Videos by Fran

Polystyrene or Styrofoam is often most recognisable when it is used as a packaging material, whether it be for fast food containers or moulded protective pieces around DVD players and other electrical goods. It is widely-used because it is lightweight, inexpensive and can act as a shock absorber and insulator.

Some of these properties may have appealed to Dr. Dean Sicking and his team at The Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, which is part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They have designed and developed the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reducing) barrier, which has been installed on oval racetracks in America.
It is a series of rectangular steel tubes which are welded together and placed a few feet away from the concrete outer wall. The space between both walls is partially filled with a series of bundled sheets of polystyrene foam to help absorb the force of any impact to the tube wall. It has also been called a “Soft Wall” as it deforms and absorbs the energy when car hits it. It is hoped that with continued research and testing that it could be used on public motorways and roads, It has certainly proved to be a success on the race tracks with both NASCAR and Indy Car endorsing its use.

In this first video, you can see some high-speed racing where the cars are travelling at 180 mph, just millimetres apart from each other and the outer barrier. They inevitably touch and one of the cars hits the barrier. In the later part of the video, you can see how the SAFER barrier deforms on impact.

This second video shows a more extreme crash showing both the advantage of the barrier system and how car improvements have increased driver safety. The polystyrene foam in the barrier compresses, absorbing some of the impact energy. This accident would have been far more severe if the previous concrete wall barrier had been used. Most drivers and teams agree the SAFER barrier has made the fast and furious world of oval track racing a safer place. Polystyrene foam is also doing its bit too.

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  1. [...] If you’ve ever been like me and watched NASCAR or the IndyCars, you’ll understand when I say "SAFER barrier". Now the guys who like to play with polystyrene explain it a bit more. [...]