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Radioactive Ping-Pong Balls



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.


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.


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.

Radioactive waste needs to be handled carefully and many engineers are dedicated to maintaining its safe and secure storage and disposal. Some work to build the pools where nuclear fuel goes after leaving the reactor. Others design the dry cask canisters which store the fuel after it is removed from the pool. Even more engineers transport these canisters thousands of miles without accidents or radiation releases. From the environmental scientists who study geologic repositories to the security guards who protect the nuclear power plant, everyone has a role to play in dealing with radioactive waste.

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)

  • stopwatch
  • 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




Did every team use the same process?

How did your team come up with your procedure?

What was essential to help your team accomplish the task?

What is the role of teamwork for engineers?

What is the role of trial and error in developing a procedure for a task?





This activity provided by the Society of Women Engineers and the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS).


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