The crowd gave a collective groan as the package dropped from three stories up, hit the ground, burst several masking-taped seams and spurted tufts of wool-like stuffing.
Another, softer parcel dripped goo when it was collected from the blue receiving tarp - called "Ground Zero" — a sure sign its cargo of raw eggs had not survived intact.
But the creative use of cotton balls, styrofoam pellets, green floral foam, packing peanuts, inflated balloons and other shock-absorbing materials enabled dozens of student teams to shield their eggs as they fell from the roof of Sonoma State University's Stevenson Hall.
MESA Day At SSU
The fate of the egg-laden packages determined who would go home a winner and who would just go home.
Richmond High School sophomore Maria Castillo — though she eventually won her age group after losing just one of 18 eggs on impact — said even losing would have its reward.
"With failure, you learn more," she said, her nervous hands and feet perhaps betraying more interest in the contest outcome than she was willing to admit.
Castillo, 16, was among some 700 Northern California middle and high schools students who assembled Saturday to broaden their exposure to technical professions and to test their mettle in applied science projects from the egg drop to mouse-trap powered cars to wind-energy devices.
All take part in MESA — Math, Engineering, Science Achievement - a 41-year-old state program designed to expose and excite economically disadvantaged students or those in under-performing schools and improve their chances of moving onto college and pursuing math, sciene and engineering careers.
Many participants work every day after school through a MESA club, experimenting with physics and design and perfecting devices for competition. Others have MESA included in their class curriculum.
Attendees had to place among the top three in their age group at local contests held through the region, from San Jose to the Oregon border, before they could strut their stuff Saturday at SSU. The university was hosting the annual, regional competition for the first time.