|What if Engineers Were Allowed to be Fathers?
The paper in my kindergartener's backpack didn't look a whole lot different from the
dozens the school regularly sends home. What was it, another announcement about silly sock
"Egg drop contest," I read on the heading. Sounds like a Chinese soup cook-off. I read further and learned that, in honor of Easter I suppose, the class was going to drop eggs off the school. Interesting. Oh, each student was to bring a specially packaged egg in a container no larger than 7 inches cubed to test what configurations would protect the egg. That was something my daughter could do.
I called my 5 year old into the kitchen.
I explained the concept to her and how we were going to build a package to protect the eggs. Without a word, she went to the fridge and came back with an egg carton. "Here you go, Daddy. This protects eggs."
I laughed at her incisive wit. Just like her old man. "Okay, Honey, what makes an egg break when it falls?"
"I know, but what about the sidewalk?"
"What about it?"
I sighed. "What is it about the sidewalk that makes the egg break?"
"It's hard." (Don't you know anything, Daddy?)
Okay, let's get more basic. I held an egg up high and started lowering it. "Is it breaking now?"
Lowering it further . . . "Now?"
Almost to the floor now.
I set the egg on the floor. "How about right here?"
"Doesn't look broken to me."
"No, if I'd dropped it."
My daughter looked at me like I'd finally lost it. "Mommy'll skin you if you drop that on her kitchen floor."
"Okay, Sweetie, but I'm trying to show you what breaks an egg."
"No, what forces?"
"See what you've gotta' do is slow the egg down before you stop it . . . "
"'Cause what makes the egg break is stopping all of a sudden."
I could see I was getting through. My daughter was going to ask an astute question about how we could calculate the speed of the container so we knew the maximum deceleration we could apply.
"Can I go watch Secret of Nimh now?"
"Don't you want to work on your school project?"
"I think I'd like to watch Secret of Nimh."
Well, I tried. The whole concept was to involve the kindergarten student in a learning experience, and I'd given it a shot. Now I had license to do it my way. Karyn called her little friend Cheyenne who came over and together they went into the den to watch the video. I scoffed. I'll bet Cheyenne's dad's egg was going to break.
When my wife came in the door a half hour later I had printouts of spreadsheets all over the kitchen table. At the moment she walked in I was leafing through my Machinery's Handbook trying to find the tensile strength of the cardboard used in a toilet paper tube. "What's going on?" my wife asked.
"Hi, honey. We're just working on Karyn's school project."
"We?" My wife looked around the kitchen.
"Well, Karyn's taking a break. Say, honey, do you know anything that we have that could be used as an accelerometer?"
"An acceler . . . Well, what I really need is just a proportional signal of some sort I could use to adjust the tension in these hangers . . ."
"Explain to me again what you're doing."
"Okay, have you ever heard of crumple zones in cars?" I got a nod in response. "See, the problem is spreading the deceleration over the maximum amount of time by using non-conservative forces to expend the energy."
My wife's features took on a look generally associated with impending coma.
"Try this," I said, hoping to incite some interest. "Take an empty beer can and smash it against your forehead. Now take an empty soup can and do the same thing. Which one hurts worse? See? People that build cars have known that for years. Materials that crumple absorb energy." I waited for my apocalyptic point to hit home.
"You're not sending my daughter to school with something made of empty beer cans," my wife said on her way out of the kitchen.
Seven hours later I had the masterpiece completed. I tiptoed into Karyn's room where she was sleeping and kissed her gently on the forehead. She was going to be the class hero tomorrow.
The next day I could hardly wait to get home from work. I burst through the door in anticipation. "How did it go?" I asked my little girl.
"Did you win?"
"The egg drop, did you win?"
"Oh, that. Nope. Mine broke."
I hugged my daughter. Funny thing, I almost felt like sobbing. A father's empathy for his daughter's tender feelings, no doubt. "I guess that's just too far to drop an egg. Nobody had anything that worked, huh?"
"Oh, there was one person."
"Well, Cheyenne's mom forgot until she was just leaving for school, so she just wadded up newspaper in a box. Hers didn't break."
I mumbled something I hoped sounded like fatherly interest, but my mind was elsewhere. Didn't Cheyenne have an brother my boy's age? Come Pinewood Derby time there was going to be some serious payback.
Just so you know, this story is fiction. My daughter's egg was one of the few that did not break, but that doesn't make as good a story.