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For soldiers manning heavy artillery, standing behind the gun is almost as dangerous as looking down its barrel.

Back in November, The New York Times reported on the strange symptoms of U.S. soldiers who had served in artillery battalions in the Middle East. After returning stateside, some of them started experiencing hallucinations, emotional distress, depression and nightmares. It turns out they had likely experienced blast-induced traumatic brain injuries, which, in some cases, weren’t identified until post-mortem analyses.

University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers Alice Lux Fawzi and Christian Franck have been working to shed light on the evolving science behind invisible brain trauma from gun blast exposure.

In a nauseating kind of way, it makes sense: It takes an enormous amount of force to propel a 24-pound warhead out of a howitzer to hit a target several miles away. So it stands to reason that the harm this force inflicts can be bidirectional. The two hope that a better understanding of the mechanism behind how brain cells die from blast pressure can help protect against their destructive effects.

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Vivian Lam

Associate Health and Biomedicine Editor

Low-level blasts can cause physical changes in the brain. Libkos/AP Photo

Low-level blasts from heavy weapons can cause traumatic brain injury − 2 engineers explain the physics of invisible cell death

Alice Lux Fawzi, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Christian Franck, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The people manning the guns are also at risk of injury from the force of the weapon.

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