UNC chairman of Exercise and Sports Science, Kevin Guskiewicz, awarded ‘genius’ grant

Eleven days ago, Kevin Guskiewicz received a life-changing phone call.

The person on the other line informed him that he was one of 22 individuals nationally to receive a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

But he couldn’t tell anyone until Tuesday when the official announcement was made.

“It was pretty much the longest 10 days of my life,” he said.
The annual grant program recognizes individuals “who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Grants from the program are regarded as some of the most prestigious in the country, and are commonly referred to as “genius” grants.

Guskiewicz, department chairman of UNC’s Exercise and Sports Science program, is nationally recognized for his work in concussion prevention in football.

Now he hopes to expand his research into military blast injuries and other sports, he said.

Guskiewicz said he is not sure how he is going to spend all the money — which comes with no strings attached — but plans on expanding his research with the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, which he directs.

His research has found ways to detect signs of a concussion without relying on symptoms alone.

He said he also hopes to extend this research, along with rehabilitation techniques, to soldiers who suffer head injuries. He met with a group from Fort Bragg on Tuesday, he said.

Guskiewicz’s research has also affected the UNC football team, which uses helmets with sensors that analyze the force of tackles.
He said he uses this information to help athletes change dangerous playing habits, such as lowering their heads to make tackles or blocks. He is working with the company X2Impact to bring mouth guards with these sensors to UNC sports that don’t use helmets, he said.

Barbara Entwisle, vice chancellor for research and development, praised Guskiewicz for the practical benefits of his work.

“Dr. Guskiewicz has developed a research program that, while it’s at the cutting edge of science, also makes a difference in the everyday lives of people here in the state of North Carolina and across the country,” she said.

Scott Trulock, head football athletic trainer for UNC, said he was excited about the effects this grant could have on his department. Trulock, who worked with the NFL before coming to UNC, said while with the league, he and his colleagues were unable to confidently determine when an athlete had recovered from a concussion.

“Concussions have always been the injury where we really were just guessing,” he said.

He said Guskiewicz developed a way to determine if someone has a concussion by measuring brain function before the season starts and then using this as a baseline to compare to when an athlete is injured.

“Anybody who’s a researcher sets out to change the world, maybe not the whole world but they set out to change their world,” Trulock said.

“I can tell you without a doubt that Kevin’s research has changed his world.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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