Jackson Co. students use toys, raw eggs to design safer cars

St. Martin students building a K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)
St. Martin students building a K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)
K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)
K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)
Testing K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)
Testing K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)
Teachers checking out K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)
Teachers checking out K'Nex car. (Photo source: WLOX News)

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Young engineers in Jackson County are learning how to design cars that could one day protect you and your passengers. On Tuesday, the gifted students at St. Martin Middle School tested their custom-made vehicles at a car dealership in Gulfport.

After a final check and some test drives, it was time to rev-up the competition. Thirty-eight students from St. Martin Middle School took part in "Mission Egg-cellence". Their challenge was to design and build a vehicle out of KNEX toy pieces that would not only survive a crash down a steep ramp, but also protect a fragile passenger, a raw egg.

The assignment gave the students a different perspective on the importance of safety features in cars.

"We compare that to the idea of you not wearing your seat belt, or hitting that windshield, or hitting that tree," said Gifted Teacher Virginia McLaughlin.

"Thousands of people die a year, and it just makes you think how can you change that? How can you make safer cars?" said eleven-year-old Ana McCarty.

Scott Allen, co-owner of Allen Automotive, served as judge and mentor.

"It's really about planning, about goal setting, about safety. Why is it so important? When they watched their egg get smashed to bits, they say, 'I'm glad my car doesn't do that,'" said Allen.

Then, came the final test. Did their creations crack under pressure when they took on the dreaded "Death Drop", an eight-foot fall?

"It's really cool, because it's like, 'Oh my goodness, mine survived,'" said 12-year-old Alyssa Ferrara. "I kept it in a cage and I guess it made it safer for it to not crack, but it was really hard."

"It broke. I don't know what happened," said eleven-year-old Maddex Krause.

But that's part of the lesson, to go back to the drawing board for some tweaking.

"You get to learn with your mistakes. Cars are supposed to be good or else you'll get hurt," said Maddex.

"If it was a real car, then I know it would keep the person safer," said 12-year-old Carleigh Russell.

"In every kind of car out today, there are certain areas that automatically crumple in case you get in a wreck. They do a really good job of replicating that with the breakaway bumpers and things like that," said Allen.

The class also had to draw a safety feature for cars. One student came up with an adjustable seat belt that's custom-made for each person's height, weight, and age. Another student designed a bracelet that beeps when parents forget their child in the car.

They plan to put on a demonstration for the entire school to encourage their peers to wear their seat belts.

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.