Auckland Bioengineering Institute

Shaken baby syndrome

Shaken Baby Syndrome illustration
Segmented MRI of a normal infant used to obtain the geometry of the brain, which was then used in a finite element model to obtain the pressures on the brain resulting from a shaking motion.

Shaken baby syndrome - more commonly termed abusive head trauma - is prevalent in New Zealand and around the world. Gaps exist in our understanding of the mechanisms linking shaking and brain injury. We are addressing these using engineering techniques and tools to better quantify the association. The results of this research will have important implications for the health and safety of New Zealand children.

Our solution to this problem has been broken down into three steps:

The first step was to determine the kinematics of the head when the body of the infant was shaken using rigid body dynamics. This was completed by (now) former doctoral candidate, Thomas Lintern.

The second step is to use finite element modelling to identify mechanical indices such as deformation and stress that occur in the brain under the shaking kinematics identified in step one. This project is currently being pursued by doctoral candidate Nikini Puhulwelle Gamage.

The final step will be to link the mechanical indices to the injuries that are seen. A PhD student is currently being sought to complete this research.

All three research steps use a range of instrumentation including inertial sensors, motion capture, magnetic resonance imaging and pressure sensing techniques and mathematical techniques (lumped parameter and finite element) to better understand the relationship between shaking and injury.

Project members



Dr Tom Lintern (PhD Candidate 2010 to 2014)

Funding partners

  • Māori Career Development Award – The Health Research Council of New Zealand
  • The University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship


  • Lintern T, Finch MC, Balaraman A, Taberner AJ, Nielsen, PMF, Nash MP. Characterising joint properties of the neck for studying shaken baby syndrome. In ISB 2011 Congress XXIII. 2011. Brussels, Belgium.
  • Finch MC, Lintern T, Taberner AJ, Nielsen PMF. Effectiveness of model-based motion estimation from an inertial measurement unit. In 2011 Fifth International Conference on Sensing Technology. 2011. Palmerston North, NZ: IEEE
  • Lintern T, Finch MC, Taberner AJ, Nielsen, PMF, Nash MP. Comparison of System Identification Techniques in the Analysis of a Phantom for Studying Shaken-baby Syndrome. In 33rd Annual International Conference of the IEEE-Engineering-in-Medicine-and-Biology-Society. 2011. Boston, Ma: IEEE.