Helmet Crash – The Melon Test

What kind of helmet protects the best in a crash?

Written by Jack Leibold
We all know the importance of having our kids wear a safety helmet when biking, skateboarding, or doing any activity where there’s a chance of a fall. But have you ever wondered which helmets protect our kids the best? How would you test this? Jack Leibold is a third grader who wanted an answer to this question and needed to find a way to test his hypothesis. Using a few honeydew melons as crash test victims, Jack set out to create a way to scientifically arrive at an answer. It’s an example of a great science fair project that puts the scientific method to great use.

Materials

  • Bike helmet
  • Ski helmet
  • Skateboard helmet
  • Toy football helmet
  • 10 honeydew melons
  • Camera
  • Measuring tape
  • Tarp
  • Ladder

Experiment

  1. Fit melons as snugly as you can into the helmets.
  2. Lay out the tarp and have an adult help you put up the ladder.
  3. Choose a step to drop the melons from.  You must drop them all from the same height in the same way!!  (I dropped all the melons in my first test from 10 feet and in the second test from 8 feet.)
  4. Climb the ladder carefully and drop the control melon (no helmet).
  5. Measure the amount of damage to the melon.  Take a picture.
  6. Clean up the mess.
  7. Follow the same steps with each of the other four melons in the helmets.  Hold on to the strap and drop the helmet straight down.  Do not throw the helmet—just let go of it!
  8. After each drop, measure your results and take pictures. Clean up between drops.
  9. Run the entire experiment again from a different height to see if you get the same results.
  • I tried to get melons that were all about the same size.
  • Some of the melons had scars on them to begin with, but no cracks.
  • All melons were dropped from the same height in the same way.
  • The amount of “bleeding” of the melons isn’t reliable because some of the melons may have been juicier than others to begin with.
  • I tried to make the helmets fit as tightly as I could by adjusting the straps.
  • The football helmet has a sticker on it that says it is not made for actual contact.

Additional Info

Science Fair Connection:

Helmet Crash – The Melon Test is an excellent example of a science fair project. It demonstrates what happens to a melon when it is dropped from a specific height without a helmet (the control) and then shows the effect of different types of helmets (the variable) on a melon when it is dropped from the same height. Conditions were standardized as much as possible, data was recorded, and discoveries were documented.

Try this experiment on your own to see if you get the same results. Here are some variables you might want to examine:

  • Choose other types of helmets.
  • Change the height of the drops.
  • Change the melon to some other object and see if that makes a difference in your results.
  • Alter the part of the helmet that hits the ground first (the top of the helmet vs the side of the helmet) to see what type of impact causes the most damage in a crash.
  • Test new helmets versus old helmets to see if the age of a helmet makes a difference in how well it protects your head.

Whatever variable you decide to test, just make sure you only change one thing at a time. Keep everything else the same in the experiment. Take photos and document your results so you can share your discoveries at the science fair.

Observations

To rank the helmets I added up the total inches of damage to each melon.  Here are the results:

Test #1—10 Ft. Drop

Type of Helmet

Total Damage

Control

Total destruction

Toy Football

13 inches

Bike

7 inches

Skateboard

17 inches

Ski

13 inches

 

Test #2—8 Ft. Drop

Type of Helmet

Total Damage

Control

Total destruction

Toy Football

10 inches

Bike

0 inches

Skateboard

14 inches

Ski

10 inches

 

 

  1. BEST HELMET:  Bike helmet
  2. Toy football helmet
  3. Ski helmet
  4. Skateboard helmet
  5. WORST HELMET:  No helmet at all! (This was my control.)

**Amazingly, my results were the same from both heights!!**

So in conclusion, helmets are better than no helmets! Though the melons that had helmets on had injuries, they weren’t nearly as bad as the control melons. My hypothesis was not correct. The ski helmet did not do nearly as well as I thought. I was shocked that the toy football helmet did so well. Maybe that’s because the helmet was deeper than the other helmets. I was also surprised that the bike helmet did so well. The helmet itself received the most damage, but the melon received the least damage. I think that’s because the bike helmet fit the melon the best. The fit of a helmet makes a big difference!!

  • Why did the ski helmet do so badly? 
  • Would the results be the same if the contact was on the side of the helmet?
  • Is there a better way to imitate a real crash and would the results be different? 

These would be great questions to explore in a future science fair project.