Boston-Armenian Scientist Helps Develop Ski Technology that Transforms the Sport

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BOSTON—Ski technology has changed very little over the past few decades, but recently two Boston-area medical professionals joined forces to create Verispellis Skis and Snowboards and pioneered the application of shape memory alloys (a cutting-edge material used in medical devices) to ski and snowboard technology.

Nitinol alloy, which the scientists used, is unique because of its properties and basic structure on a molecular level that allows it to respond dramatically to changes in temperature. Verispellis may be the most innovative concept since shaped skis were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Dr. Ara Nazarian is an active member of the Armenian community of Boston. Here, he is addressing the Boston commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. (Photo: AYF-YOARF Eastern U.S.)

Nitinol is a shape-memory alloy, one that remembers its original shape and stiffness, and when deformed returns to its pre-deformed shape or stiffness with the application of some heat. The alloy exhibits a wide range of physical properties with changes in temperature as well as fast transitions between those different states. Nitinol is a remarkable material with many current medical and biomedical applications, including cardiac stents. Nitinol is the basis of advanced 3D meshes that allow neatly folded cardiac stents to travel through arteries safely until the desired location is reached; at that point, exposure to body temperature makes the stent unfold and restore blood flow to an occluded vessel. That type of deployment is not possible using traditional materials.

It took two Boston-area medical professionals, however, to realize the potential of Nitinol to revolutionize snow-sports technology. They developed a novel method that allows this shape-memory alloy to be placed between layers of wood or fiberglass (more traditional ski materials), resulting in a ski or snowboard the stiffness of which may be manipulated via digital technology. A wireless Bluetooth transmitter communicates with an electric heating element powered by a small lithium-ion battery embedded within the ski. This mechanism allows users to control the properties of their ski/snowboard via any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.

Ara Nazarian is an orthopedic scientist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, one of the Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals. His training is in mechanical and biomedical engineering. Ken Rodriguez is an orthopedic surgeon and engineer who specializes in trauma at the same institution in Boston. Both passionate skiers came up with an idea to use Nitinol to create a pair of “shape-shifting” skis or snowboards. Their final design keeps the same shape of the ski but changes the material properties and stiffness to go from a standard ski/snowboard configuration to a “stiffer one,” as needed.

“Ken and I had thought about Nitinol for some of our biomedical projects, and one day we asked ourselves, Why can’t we use it in skis to allow us to control the stiffness of our skis? Being East Coast skiers, where we can ski on ice and mashed potato snow all in one day and on the same mountain, we figured we’d consolidate a quiver into a single pair of skis that could handle different conditions by making the skis softer or stiffer as dictated by the conditions. And, as they say, the rest is history, and Verispellis was born,” Nazarian explained.

Verispellis is a Latin word that means shape-shifter. It also means werewolf, thus the company’s logo.

Verispellis Skis (Photo: Verispellis)

The idea was conceived on Mount Sunapee, N.H., where many bouts of ambient snow and ski temperatures were recorded over different weather conditions. “Verispellis was born in Boston, first in our computers, where we designed and simulated skiing on different types of snow at different skiing conditions (carving at different angles) using finite element (FE) modeling, followed by building our first fully skiable prototype,” Nazarian and Rodriguez said.

This technology is innovative in many ways. The design was optimized via advanced FEM modeling and simulation, allowing these developers to predict how their skis would react to any possible combination of skier position and behavior as well as weather and snow conditions. The initial (patent-pending) prototype was created by a Boston-area custom ski manufacturer, employing thin sheets of Nitinol imported from Germany. Every aspect of this ski has been precisely engineered with performance, safety, and durability in mind.

“The new technology introduced by Verispellis has the potential to change the entire ski industry. The ability to effectively change the stiffness of one’s skis or board in a few seconds will allow skiers or boarders to adapt better to changing snow surface conditions, and will improve performance immediately,” said Arman Serebrakian, Harvard plastic surgery resident and 2014 Olympic alpine ski racer.

“The ability to do it on demand through a smartphone app makes it simple, reliable, and effective for users of all ages and ability levels. It truly is a game-changer. I’ve been skiing my entire life and have always thought about how we could improve ski technology so that little changes in snow conditions didn’t require a different pair of skis. Verispellis offers that solution.”

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Source: Armenian Weekly
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