WORKING WITH DUMMIES
Risa Scherer’s ‘patients’ help make the world a safer place.
Risa Scherer has a standard line when asked what she does for a living.
“I work with a bunch of dummies,” says Scherer with a laugh.
She supervises Ford Motor Company’s Anthropomorphic Test Devices Laboratory — a fancy name for a lab with crash-test dummies.
Scherer once dreamed of a career in medicine, diagnosing and treating aches, pains, cuts and bruises in humans. Instead, her “patients” are dummies, and her analyses of data from their electronic sensors are used to make vehicles safer.
“It was biology that stopped me,” she says of the class. “I didn’t do horribly, but not as well as I should have to be a doctor.”
She took a metallurgical engineering course, which she loved, and transferred to Wayne State University’s School of Engineering. After earning a bachelor’s in metallurgical engineering, she went on to get a master’s degree in biomechanics.
Scherer says she has seen major safety improvements during the 16 years she’s worked at Ford.
“It’s constantly changing. At Ford Motor Company and as an industry, we are doing much more testing. At Ford, we have always used child-sized dummies, but now it is government-mandated to test for various sizes,” she says.
Whereas the goal 40 years ago was just to survive a crash, today the hope is that occupants will walk away without fractures or other significant injuries. Would people ride in a vehicle without a safety belt if they knew what Scherer does about what happens in a crash?
“No, they wouldn’t,” says Scherer emphatically.
Her 4-year-old son expects to be buckled into his child-restraint seat, and her nieces and nephews know that if they don’t have their safety belts on, Aunt Risa won’t start the car, she added.
Scherer, who’s married with two children, now can’t imagine doing anything other than crash-test engineering with her career.
“By helping to make vehicles safer, you feel that you’re actually making an impact,” she said. No pun intended.