NATICK, Mass. -- What can an egg teach students about helmet design and testing?

It turns out a lot.

Peggy Auerbach, a textile technologist in the Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, created a lesson plan that can be used in any STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education setting. The plan involves the development and testing of a helmet for an egg.

Auerbach reached out to others working at the CCDC Soldier Center for their various expertise, including Jo Ann Ratto, a plastics engineer in SPSD. Ratto provided different polymers for the students to use while developing their plastic helmet protection solutions.

Both Auerbach and Ratto are in the process of completing specialized NASA STEM training, which teaches how to develop engaging STEM outreach lesson plans and how to interact with the community. Through their NASA STEM training, Auerbach and Ratto are able to create lesson plans that adhere to national science standards.

In the helmet/egg lesson plan, students are given the chance to design a helmet to protect an egg from breaking. The activity involves creativity, trial-and-error, and performance testing. The activity increases awareness of what it's like to be a scientist or engineer and also increases awareness about STEM careers in the Army in general and the work being done at the CCDC Soldier Center specifically.

The STEM activity was a big hit with students and student mentors at this summer's Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, or GEMS, program hosted by U. S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, which is co-located with CCDC SC at the Natick Soldier Systems Center. The GEMS program enables middle school students to experience science in a real laboratory setting. High school and college students lead the GEMS activities and serve as mentors.
In addition to giving students the chance to put on their engineering thinking caps, the head protection/helmet activity was one the students could relate to in a personal way.

"The students really related to the lesson plan," said Auerbach. "They themselves wear helmets for sports and recreational activities. They know about concussions either through concussion training, or because they or someone they know has had a concussion."

Auerbach's STEM lesson plan was combined with Ratto's STEM lesson plan on recycling. The students ended up using an extruder to heat and mold plastic around a soda can to create the proper shape for the helmet and then experimented with different soft materials inside the helmet for added protection and a cushioning effect.

"They needed to develop a helmet that was recoverable and could be used again and still provide protection," said Auerbach.

The activity included three different levels of testing, one of which was an impact tester developed with the help of CCDC SC's Aerial Delivery Directorate.

"They got the chance to test the helmet for performance, which really got them excited," said Ratto. "They wanted to create the best helmet."

Auerbach designed the lesson plan so that the STEM activity can be done by anyone in any setting. The lesson plan includes clear instructions for carrying out the lesson as well as links to more information about helmets. Helmets used by Soldiers in real-life are also available to show to students.

"If someone is going to go out and do a STEM activity in a classroom, this activity can be done with bubble wrap or cotton balls instead of extruded plastic," said Auerbach. "Or you can opt to do just part of the lesson, depending on the amount of time you have."

Ratto and Auerbach are longtime STEM advocates. The pair continues to develop a popular interactive program for STEM outreach called "The Science Behind the Soldier." The project was made possible by CCDC SC's Bootstrap Initiative, which enables CCDC SC employees to write proposals and obtain funding for innovative ideas.

To prepare for the challenges of the future, both Ratto and Auerbach recognize the importance of encouraging young people to pursue STEM as a career.

"The next generation of scientists needs to be adept at creative as well as critical thinking," said Auerbach.

The Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center is dedicated to using science and technology to ensure America's warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. CCDC SC supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the CCDC SC's chief areas of focus. The center's science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. CCDC SC is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers' performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.