National Science Teaching Association: How Can Race Car Bumpers Store Energy?

Students are presented with the phenomenon of car design features that increase driver safety during high-speed collisions.

Students analyze a high-speed collision to track the race car’s energy between two points in time: just before the collision to the end of the collision. Students’ noticings and questions create the need to investigate different materials’ ability to store energy by changing size and shape (deforming). The lesson continues with students trying to determine how the structure (shape) of specific racecar design features contribute to a material’s ability to store energy (function).


Teacher Materials

Student Materials

Per group

  • Ball (golf, tennis, baseball, softball, solid rubber, hollow rubber, foam [dense], steel)
  • meter stick
  • Decibel Meter Sound Detector (free app for phones)
  • Infrared camera or infrared thermometer (optional)
  • Painter’s tape

Per student

Science Topics
Physics, Sports
Engineering Topics
Machines, Materials, Structures
Middle School, Educator
6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade
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