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Leader in Pediatric Injury Science Recognized by Society of Automotive Engineers

Published on April 26, 2023 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 7 months 2 weeks ago
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Kristy Arbogast, PhD

The Society of Automotive Engineers honored Kristy Arbogast, PhD, with a prestigious safety award for her contributions in the field of pediatric injury science.

Editor's Note: Kristy Arbogast, PhD, co-scientific director and director of engineering in the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, received the 2022 Arnold W. Siegel International Transportation Safety Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE), whose mission is to advance mobility knowledge and solutions for the benefit of humanity. This award recognizes an individual in a leadership position who has made a significant transportation safety impact on their organization or on society worldwide. We sat down with Dr. Arbogast to learn more about her research career focused on improving safety of children and youth in motor vehicle crashes and what this award means to her.

Congratulations on receiving the 2022 Arnold W. Siegel International Transportation Safety Award from SAE. What does this award represent to you?

To be recognized by an organization whose mission emphasizes solutions for something we all engage in every day — mobility — is meaningful because it says to me that I've been true to CIRP's research to action to impact approach. And while SAE is an organization that covers all transportation, to be honored with an award named for one of the leaders in child safety, Arnold Siegel, is particularly meaningful, as he was a pioneer in this field. He had a hand in the first infant and child crash test dummies and early child restraints and booster seats, as well as safety on school busses.

I'm the first woman honored with this award since it transitioned to being a single awardee instead of honoring an authorship team for a seminal paper. Over my career, I've been in many meetings where I'm the only woman, and I hope that my career has provided examples for other women in this field to show them that we have a place — and a leadership place — at this table of automotive engineering.

What led you to choose a research career centered on injury causation and the effectiveness of safety products for children with a major focus on improving safety of children and youth in motor vehicle crashes?

As an undergraduate student at Duke, I did research under the supervision of Barry Meyers, MD, PhD, MBA, who happens to be the 1997 recipient of this award, and that's where I first thought that injury biomechanics was my path. Then, while at the University of Pennsylvania for my PhD, I continued to develop that passion for using engineering and physics to understand the human body and how it's injured. When I was graduating from Penn, Flaura Winston, MD, PhD, was just starting CIRP and had received her first grant from State Farm Insurance, Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS). She needed an engineer to run the crash investigation component of that effort, so in 1997 I started my career at CHOP. Over the next 10 years, Flaura and I, along with Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE, were blessed with the opportunity to have the resources and, maybe more importantly, the data, through our partnership with State Farm and the PCPS study, to answer a multitude of questions of how to keep kids safe on our roads.

What effect did your work in the Partners for Child Passenger Safety Program, the nation's first large-scale, child-focused crash surveillance system, have on child safety?

We had information that needed to go to industry and government to improve the safety for kids. When I speak of the research we've done, that is what I'm most proud of. Yes, we published in high impact journals, but we helped guide child safety policy, and we educated consumers about best practices. Industry has used our data to influence designs. States use the data to pass laws, and the Federal Department of Transportation has publicly cited our data as key reasons for action and as the basis for determining future investment of federal resources and attention.

We shifted behavior to make children safe in cars. We put them in the back seat. We got them in child restraints. I can say as a parent, I influenced my own kids' lives. We changed lives in Pennsylvania. And that was, in large part, because of our data — in the hands of many stakeholders who could effect change.

What other research projects, key findings, and impact are you proud of?

One of the things I learned in interfacing with industry is that the crash test dummies are the primary tool they have to innovate and to advance design. Early in my career, the child-sized crash test dummies were literally size-scaled from adults. My clinical colleagues at CHOP knew that children were not just small adults; children are put together differently.

I started a body of work where we built a test device in a lab that mimicked bumper cars at amusement parks. This allowed us to study how kids move and how kids move differently from adults. This was the first time — and almost 20 years later is still the only time — where engineers in my field studied real children. And we could do it at CHOP because CHOP understood pediatric studies. I could have an intelligent conversation with colleagues here in the Research Institute and Institutional Review Board to understand how to do this safely. I don't think I could have done that at an engineering school. That work has advanced the child crash test dummies such that they are more child-like and not just size-scaled. It's led to a series of add-on projects that continue to define how children move.

We continue to push the envelope with another project: the Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS), an industry and university cooperative research center where we have 10 to 20 industry members who support a body of research advancing the science of how to protect kids in cars. Similar to what we developed with State Farm and PCPS, we do the kind of science that is helping industry and government make changes. Since 2005, we've done more than 160 projects that are fostering the careers of early- and mid-career scientists who work on these projects. Again, it is a research to action to impact model of working with industry. And that's important.

What advice do you have for the next generation of child safety scientists?

As engineers, we solve problems, but it is important that we are solving the right ones. I encourage young engineers to leave their engineering bubble and learn from those on the front line, whether that is users of the technology they're developing or clinicians who see injuries firsthand. What is that problem we need to solve? We can't engineer human behavior out of a situation, so we need to understand how the user is going to interface with our safety technology. Engineers need to think about partnerships with other disciplines, whether that's behavioral science, human factors, or cognitive psychology, and use principles from those disciplines combined with our expertise to make it easier for consumers to do the right thing.

What is it about CHOP and the Research Institute that's inspired you to build your career here?

This true intersection between engineering and medicine is unique here; those disciplines cannot function alone in injury science. If we go back to Arnold Siegel's time, injury science really was just about mechanics and physics. But we're protecting humans, not crash test dummies. And so our field has evolved to consider physiology, biology, and the fact that we are living, breathing humans. Working at CHOP has helped me to partner with clinician scientists who understand this, and that's why I love my career here. I work with physicians every day who know firsthand what child injury looks like; this helps me, as an engineer, make sure I'm solving the right problems. We need to be anchored in reality, and I can do that at CHOP. It comes down to the partnership with physicians. That's why I've stayed here for 25 years, and it's been fabulous.