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Bridges illustrate the effect of weight or another force at a distance from a pivot or support point (torque), and they also provide experience with beams.

ASK
How might we use a weak material like PAPER in order to MAKE A BRIDGE strong enough to span an 8 inch gap and support a weight?

  • 8 1/2 x 11 scrap paper
  • small weights
  • ruler
  • books in even height piles, 8 inches apart

IMAGINE
Think about different shapes, structures and forms – folds, tubes, beams. It must be long enough to cross the gap made with a single piece of paper.

PLAN, CREATE

  • Take a sheet of paper and construct a bridge which will span an 8-inch gap (piles of books). Do not use any materials to anchor the bridge to the desks
  • Experiment by adding small weights, one at a time, to the center of the bridge.
  • When the bridge collapses, try to construct an even stronger bridge, using another sheet of paper.
  • Keep a record of the trials. Draw the shape of their bridge and mark down how much weight each bridge held before collapsing.
  • Draw a cross-section of the bridges, as well as a silhouette. Look closely at which constructions were successful and which were not.

IMPROVE
Which were discovered to be successful? What were the improvements?

  • What shape seemed to be the weakest/strongest?
  • What part of the bridge seemed to collapse first?
  • Where was the bridge weakest?
  • What would you use to make the paper bridge even stronger?
  • What do you think would happen if the desks were farther apart? Closer together? Why?
  • What do you think would happen if you could anchor the bridges to the desks? Why?

Exploratorium Paper Bridges

PBS Building Big Paper Bridge

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