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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Impact!

Design and test a car roof that keeps passengers safe.

Materials Needed

  • Balls, assorted (e.g., a tennis ball, golf ball or baseball)
  • Cardboard box (e.g., cereal box, shoe box)
  • Paper cup
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Recyclables

At-Home Instructions

Have you ever wondered how the design of a car helps keep us safe? Manufacturers test their cars in all different environments to see how they withstand tough elements before the cars ever reach consumers.

  1. Build and test your own car prototype by using a small box to represent the car’s interior.
  2. Turn a paper cup upside down within the box to represent the passenger.
  3. Build a roof using recyclables and other items over the opening of the box.
  4. Place the car on the floor.
  5. Release one ball approximately three feet from the floor so that it drops on the car roof and observe what happens.
  6. Continue testing with other balls. Which ball had the greatest impact? How might you modify or reinforce your roof to make it stronger?
  7. Cars are designed so that passengers are protected by the structure around them. Steel reinforcements in car doors and roofs help reduce the risk of injury to passengers. What are your recommendations for designing safer cars?

Educators: Use this activity in the classroom with these modifications

Give your students parameters for building their car roofs. Challenge children to use no more than six supports (e.g., craft sticks, straws). Create a test site and have children work in pairs to take turns testing their roofs. Have one member of each pair use a yardstick to measure three feet above the car that is resting on the floor. Have one member release a ball from that spot. Have the other child write down any observations. Which ball had the greatest impact? What other materials could your students test?

What are we learning?

National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Samuel Alderson, a physicist and engineer, was a pioneer in developing the automotive crash test dummy. Formally known as an anthropomorphic test device (ATD), the crash test dummy has provided automotive engineers with valuable information, enabling them to design more effective safety features including seat belts and airbags. Such safety restraints are estimated to have saved hundreds of thousands lives since 1960. The dummy that is the current industry standard for frontal crash testing in the United States is a lineal descendant of one Alderson began manufacturing for the aerospace industry in the early 1950s.

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