Wednesday, 27 June 2012

ACTIVITY: Mr. Egghead and the Concussing Tupperware

       Your brain keeps you alive. It's the home of your personality, your memories, and your mind. Brain injuries are, to use a massive understatement, not good. Lucky for your brain, evolution has provided some pretty nifty techniques for keeping your brain healthy. The skull is one example (it's so much more than a Halloween prop!) The poison-vomiting reflex I talked about in the carsickness post is another - even if the brain does sometimes use this one when it isn't strictly necessary (such as during carsickness). Today I'm going to talk you through a fun and messy activity which is designed to teach you about another way that the brain is protected from injury. This is one of my favorite brain activities to do with kids, mostly because it involves smashing things. So without further ado...

Mr. Egghead and the Concussing Tupperware


2 tupperware containers. They should be the same size, or as close in size as you can get them.
2 eggs, uncooked
paper towels (for clean-up)

**This activity can get messy! Okay, I've never actually made a mess when doing it in a classroom, but you never know when the lid might pop off the tupperware. So make sure your parents are around, and okay with a little mess.**



Put an egg in one of the tupperware containers and seal it TIGHT.

Shake the container as hard as you can! What happens to the egg? Why did this happen?

       Most likely, your egg broke. Now, imagine the egg is your brain, and the tupperware is your skull. What do you think would happen if you hit your head? (Keep in mind what happened to the egg.) If you said something along the lines of "you would hurt your brain," you're right. This activity is a demonstration of a concussion, which is a head injury that happens when your brain hits your skull. (NOTE: Your brain does not turn into a gooey mess when it hits your skull. In real life, it gets bruised, just like your skin sometimes gets bruised. But because your brain is both fragile and important, even a bruise can cause major problems. Concussions can be quite debilitating, which is why doctors want to change the name to "mild traumatic brain injury". Keep that in mind as the activity continues.)
       You might have noticed how easy it was to break that egg. With most people the egg cracks within the first shake or two. Let's keep going with the activity:


Fill the second tupperware with water. Put the second egg in, and seal the container TIGHT. Before you do anything, make a guess about what will happen to the egg. Will it break?

Note that this tupperware has water in it.
Now shake the container as hard as you can! What happened to the egg? Did you guess right?

I'm guessing that your egg didn't break. Maybe it has a crack in it, if you're really strong. Why didn't the egg break? If you said, "because of the water," you're right on. What do you think this means for the brain?


The first egg (the one without water) broke way too easily. In a real person, that would be like giving yourself a head injury every time you shake your head. That doesn't happen! This is because your brain is surrounded by a cushioning layer of fluid, called the cerebrospinal fluid (or CSF). CSF prevents your brain from hitting your skull. Think about the water in the second tupperware. The water cushions the egg from the tupperware, in the exact same way that the CSF cushions your brain from your skull.
The CSF (blue) is between the brain and the skull. From
But sometimes people do get concussions, even with CSF. Let's look at this with our eggs and tupperware:


Pick up your second container, the one with the unbroken egg and the water. (If you managed to break this egg in step 2, I'm impressed. You can prep another egg/water/tupperware if you want to keep going with the activity.) Now, really bash that second container. Make that egg break! Hit it against a table if you have to. Again and again and again! Really wallop it good. Make sure the lid on the tupperware stays sealed, otherwise the activity won't work!! For your parents' sake, try not to make a mess. But bash that thing until the egg breaks. How hard was it to get the egg to break?

       I find it very tough to get the egg to break, but I can manage it by hitting the tupperware against the table. Most of you will, by this time, have broken that egg. Look at the egg. Does it look different from the first egg you broke? My first egg was completely destroyed. My second egg was still broken, but much less badly. Think about the real world. What do you think this is trying to demonstrate?
       Sometimes, someone will get hit in the head so hard that not even the CSF can protect the brain. The brain hits the skull, and the result is a concussion. Even so, the concussion is less severe than if there was no CSF. If you don't believe me, compare the two eggs. But the brain is still injured. If the hit is hard enough, the injury can be very serious, possibly even life-threatening.
       This happened to my dad a few years ago. He was biking on the mountain near the house where I grew up. The next thing he remembers, he was surrounded by people and being loaded into an ambulance. We think a car forced him off the road. My dad had a concussion - when the accident happened, his brain hit his skull. The trauma of that hit is why he can't remember what happened. It was like Step 3 in the activity.
       My dad is fully recovered now. But at the time of the accident, he had, on top of the concussion, several broken ribs, a busted shoulder, and a punctured lung. When we went to see him in the hospital, the doctor showed us his helmet. It was destroyed. It was covered in cracks and one side was completely dented in. Imagine what would have happened if he hadn't been wearing that helmet. The dent would have been in his skull. My guess is, he wouldn't currently be hanging out in California, enjoying his retirement. He probably wouldn't even be alive.
       So the moral of the story is this: Your CSF is fantastic at protecting your brain from minor injuries, but it isn't always enough. Think about the egg from Experiment 3 of the activity. Please don't let this happen to you. Your brain is the most important thing you have, and I really don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that. When you're biking, or playing football, or skating, or doing any activity where you might fall and hit your head, ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET.


If you feel like smashing up some more eggs, try this. Do the whole activity again, only this time, use different sized tupperware.

What happens when the tupperware and the egg are close in size? What happens when the tupperware is much bigger than the egg? Given what you just saw, what do you think the relative sizes of the brain and the skull are? Is the skull much bigger than the brain? Or only slightly bigger? Why? Send me your answers in the comments or through e-mail at


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