Why take apart your clicky (retractable ball) pen?

Bic Pen engineer and product manager Will Link discusses the engineering of retractable pens in response to Science Friday Science Club #Breakitdown

Vocabulary: disassembly, retractable, product design, product testing

NGSS: SEP3-Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Common Core State Standards:

Retractable ball pen. Credit: Pavel Krok~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 2.5]/Wikimedia Commons

Over the past month, Science Friday listeners have taken apart various things as part of the Science Club’s “Break It Down” project. Many people chose to answer this challenge by breaking down their clicky pens. Ira Flatow mets with Science Club co-founders Ariel Zych and Charles Bergquist and Bic Pen engineer and product manager Will Link to discuss the engineering of retractable pens.

Audio Excerpt “ How You — and the Science Club — Broke It Down” 12/9/2016. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.


  • Why do you think there is such rigorous testing for these pens? Do you think all products go through this much testing? Why or why not?
  • What could you break down that you want to know more about? What would you hope to learn about it?
  • Think about the phrase “break it down.” People took apart objects. What are some other ways to break something down into parts?
  • Will Link said that Bic uses 25 to 30 torture tests for their pens. Design and conduct a product test for a pen. In your design, state clearly what you are trying to determine about pen quality. Be sure to outline your method of data collection and indicate how you will measure success.

Activity Suggestions

  • You know your students take apart their pens anyway, so have them take apart different types of retractable ball pens and devise tests for the different components. Check out the video from Bic below, where you can look at the inner workings of retractable ball pens.
Get the full #breakitdown on the retractable pen from Bic.