Easy Engineering Science Fair Project
My son, Brendan, has always been fascinated with building things and wants to be an engineer. For one of his elementary science fair projects, I adapted some ideas I'd seen at a teaching conference twenty years earlier. There are two parts to this project:
- Finding out how many books can stack on top of egg shell halves.
- Building an arch out of sugar cubes that hold together without glue.
Brendan loved this project and learned a lot about what makes a strong structure.
Step-by-Step InstructionsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Why are domes and arches able to stay up without falling down?
Experiment 1: Strength of Domes
Question 1: How many books can eggshells hold?
- books (same size books are best)
- small scissors
- paper and pen to record results
- Create the half eggshell "buildings": A parent may need to do this part, but you can certainly let a child try too. Carefully poke a hole in the egg with small sharp scissors. Next, cut around the egg as smoothly as you can. Do this until you get four eggshell halves which are the same height (you may need to shave down edges until they are the same). If egg cracks during the process, you will need to use another egg. For the experiment to work, the eggs need to have smooth edges without cracks onto the surface.
- Make sure eggshells are the same height: Put four eggshell halves down on a firm table surface. Put one book on top to make sure they are all level.
- Make a hypothesis: Make a hypothesis of how many books you can stack on your eggshells before they break.
- Test your hypothesis by putting books on your eggshell houses. Put them on carefully and slowly so that you don't use extra force. Take pictures as you go for your poster.
- Results: When your eggshells start cracking, your experiment is done. See if your results matched your hypothesis. Write down what you learned.
- Conclusion: Explain what you learned from this experiment. Compare your results with your hypothesis.
To help you in writing your conclusion, you may want to do some research. Look at some of the resources on this Hub about building, arches and domes. Look up on the Internet some information about domes and arches, or find a book at the library with some information you can study. Here are some things to research:
- Why are arches and domes are so strong?
- How do builders use these shapes?
- Look for examples of famous domes and arches. Write down what you learn.
- Can you find any examples of domes or arches in your neighborhood or town?
- You might want to draw or take pictures of them for you Science Fair poster.
Experiment 2: Arches
Question: can you build an arch from sugar cubes without using glue?
- sugar cubes (you can also use boxes, blocks or other square shapes)
- pen and pencil to record results
1. Make a Hypothesis: Do you think you can build an arch? How many cubes across? How many different arches can you design? Paper and pencil to record results
2. Building Your Arch: Using the sugar cubes, see if you can build a bridge or arch which stays together just by the force of gravity. Try different designs. If you have other square materials like small blocks, unit cubes, or cardboard boxes, you might want to try making arches with those materials as well. You can even try it with other shapes like toilet tube rolls.
3. Record: think about how you are building and write down the answer to questions like these:
- How high can you make your arch?
- How many sugar cubes across?
- Challenge other people in your family to try.
- If you tried materials other than sugar cubes, what was the result?
4. Gathering Information for Poster: Take pictures and draw your designs on paper for your poster.
5. Conclusion: Evaluate why you got the results you did. What did you learn? Were you surprised? Was building an arch easier or harder than you thought? Do you think that using a different material would give different results?
Why Arches and Domes
Arches and domes are a fundamental building concept. These experiments are a lot of fun and the results may surprise you. Moreover, these experiments show kids that engineering is creative and engaging. Whether or not your child has to do a science fair project for school, they may enjoy doing this experiment and it might spur them on to a career in science or engineering.
My son, Brendan, enjoyed this experiment so much that he has continued on his journey to be an engineer. He went on to do engineering projects with Lego Mindstorms in Junior High School that won second place at the Texas State Science Fair. In high school, he chose to take all of the physics and engineering courses offered at our school. In fact, he just completed his first semester as a college student majoring in Engineering.
While doing this project might not make your child decide to become a STEM major it can teach them that math and science are fun!