Middle school students in the Hamburg Enrichment Program faced a unique challenge this fall: creating packaging to protect a single Pringle chip in the mail.

The Pringle Chip Challenge was presented to sixth, seventh and eighth graders by Hamburg Enrichment Program teacher Mary Sweeney. Students watched a video on the physics behind car accidents and learned about velocity, acceleration and force before beginning their designs. Sweeney offered them a variety of supplies including coffee filters, foam peanuts and the like to create their packaging prototypes.

Matthew Livingston completed his design early, applying ideas he gained from other experiments. His used rubber bands to suspend the chip in a small box and straws to provide more support between that box and outer packaging.

“I don’t want to brag, but yes,” he said of his chances of successfully mailing the chip.

“I went small with my container,” said Logan Hess. “That way, I wouldn’t have to use a lot of materials.”

Hess used a combination of cups and padded materials to cushion the chip.

“That way, it won’t wiggle. I feel pretty good about my design.”

Classmate Jacob Engle had been out of school for a few days and was working to catch up on his project design.

“The first thing I could think of was to find a way to have it bounce safely,” Engle said, displaying a foam box with a hollow space in the middle. “The only thing I’m concerned with is if the glued-on pieces will hold.”

“I measured the diameter of the Pringle and then I cut the shape out of foam,” said Gracie Long, who recycled the foam shavings to create more padding in her design. “It’s an exact fit. I think my chances are pretty good.”

Students worked on their own pace on the project, working simultaneously on other school assignments. Friends Alexander Stoudt and Max Wilson opted to team up on the Pringle packaging design.

“We’re making an outer layer and kind of smothering it with cotton balls,” Wilson said as he continued to attach the outer layer of cotton.

“We have an obsession with cotton,” Stoudt added, grinning. “We’ve used it on every single project in the class.”

Wilson estimated their odds of successfully mailing their Pringle at 50 percent.

“It sounded good at the beginning,” his teammate added. “But I’m not sure anymore.”

Benjamin Bracy and Timothy Calnon also created a team design, and they admit they went with a quick and easy solution.

“We just threw a bunch of fluffy stuff in a box,” Calnon said.

Bracy added, “It didn’t take long, then we just started kicking it around and it didn’t break.”

“My idea was to cover the Pringle with packing peanuts,” Emily Smith said, explaining she put the chip into a paper cup and then surrounded that with a ring of popsicle sticks.

“I have tested it,” she added, “and I think it needs a few modifications.”

Sweeney encouraged the students to take their prototypes on trial runs. Pairs tossed sealed packages back and forth, others drop-kicked them across the room. Some headed to a nearby stairwell to drop their Pringles down a flight before carefully opening the packages to check the results.

The Hamburg Enrichment Program is for students who are in need of supplemented instruction above and beyond the standard school curriculum. Sweeney, who teaches Hamburg Enrichment Program in the elementary and middle schools, said she did the Pringles project three years ago in the middle school. That year, only one group of eighth-grade boys successfully mailed the chip; she anticipates a larger group will succeed this year.

For each chip that arrives unbroken, Sweeney will buy that designer lunch. But the students will have to wait to find out if they’ve earned a free lunch; Sweeney mailed the packages shortly before Thanksgiving and will reveal the package contents after the school break.

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