Radioactive Ping-Pong Balls
Although the object of this competition is to be the first team to successfully move all the “radioactive” ping pong balls from one brown paper bag to the other, the deeper significance is to show that an engineering project often depends on teamwork. In this activity, students will devise a system for transporting all the balls from one bag to another without contamination leaks, using only the supplies provided.
This activity is appropriate for any age group, depending on the depth of the technical explanations and discussions. The audience here is grade 7 - 10.
Work together in teams to solve a problem.
CONNECT TO ENGINEERING
The stereotypical image of an engineer is someone who works alone in a cubicle or laboratory, or is on a construction site peering at blueprints. In reality, teamwork is critical to solving engineering problems.
As in this activity, teams need to work together to be creative, resourceful, and efficient to get the task done quickly and correctly. Many ideas are needed, and everyone’s input is necessary. The teams are also working against a deadline, which adds to the complexity of the task. Before beginning the activity and again in sharing everyone’s ideas and methods at the end, make sure to point out that there is no single correct way to get the task done – there are many methods that will work.
Students may be curious or have concerns about real-world disposal problems concerning radio-active waste or even bio-chemical hazards. If time allows, a discussion on how engineers are working to solve these problems might be helpful.
Engineers are involved in the design, construction, and operation of nuclear power plants for power generation, propulsion of nuclear ships and submarines, and space power systems. Engineers are also involved in the handling of nuclear fuels, the safe disposal of radioactive wastes, and in medical uses of radioactive isotopes.
(for each team)
- 2 brown paper lunch bags
Place in Bag #1
- 6 “radioactive”(brightly colored) ping pong balls
Place in Bag # 2
- 2 paper clips
- 3 straws
- 4 3” x 3” pieces of paper
- 5 rubber bands
- 6 craft sticks
- 7 push pins
- 8 plastic spoons
- 9 pieces of 6” string
- 10 pieces of tape
- Divide the group into teams of 4-6 people each.
- Empty thesupplies from Bag #2 and place Bag #1 and Bag #2 on the floor approximately 8 feet apart from each other. The bags are to sit on the ground with the opening toward the ceiling, and they may not be moved, slid, tipped, etc.
- The balls need to be transported from Bag #1 to Bag #2 using only the supplies provided. No part of the body or clothes may touch the balls – ONLY the supplies. The team may alter the supplies in any way necessary, but once a supply item has been used to move a ball, it is contaminated and must be dropped into Bag #2 with the transported balls.
- If a person touches a ball, or if a ball gets dropped there is a contamination leak! The leader (you)may put on your protective gear and return theball to Bag #1. The ball still must betransported to Bag #2, and the team gets a15-second deduction.
- There is a six-minute time limit. The team that moves all the balls in the shortest amount of time wins. Remember to deduct for any contamination leaks. Try to enforce the time limit, but you may need to let the teams run over to complete the task. After all the teams have completed the challenge, tally up the times and go around the room to have the teams share their ideas and comments. Provide recognition to the winning team, to any team who completed the project within the time limit, to the team with the most creative transportation tool, to the team with the best teamwork, etc.
This activity provided by the Society of Women Engineers and the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS). For more educational resources visit www.swe.org and www.jets.org