Educational Resources Lets Talk Science Challenge participants

Gordie Howe International Bridge: Fluor Project Between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario

Gordie Howe International Bridge: Fluor Project Between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario (© Fluor. Used with permission).

Hands-on Activities

Build a Paper Bridge

Summary

Build and test a bridge made out of nothing but paper!
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What You Need

  • Writing paper (like from a school notebook)
  • Coins (or other small objects)
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Two thick books that are the same size

What To Do

  1. Place the two books about 20 cm apart on a table. 
  2. Cut a rectangle of paper that is 30 cm x 10 cm.
  3. Take the piece of paper and place it so the ends of the paper rest on the books. DO NOT TAPE the paper to the book. Place a coin on the paper. You will see that the paper sags down.
  4. Think about what you can do with the paper to make it hold coins without sagging. For example, try folding the paper. How many coins can it hold without sagging?
  5. Think about shapes. Are there any shapes you could add to the bridge to make it stronger? Using scrap paper, tape and scissors, try making shapes to support the bridge. 
  6. Once you think you’ve made a strong bridge, test it again. One by one, place coins onto the bridge. Count how many it can hold before it sags.
Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls
Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls (THEPALMER via iStockphoto)

Did you know?

There are 21 bridges that connect Canada to the United States. At many of them you must pay a toll to cross.

Discovery

What’s happening?

You used writing paper to make your bridge. Writing paper is a type of paper that is thin and easy to bend. Other types of paper, like Bristol board, are stiffer and harder to bend. If you take writing paper and you roll it tightly into a tube, you will see that it becomes harder to bend. By adding more layers of paper, you make it stronger. 

various types of paper
Various types of paper (KatarzynaBialasiewicz, iStockphoto)

 

What’s happening?

You used writing paper to make your bridge. Writing paper is a type of paper that is thin and easy to bend. Other types of paper, like Bristol board, are stiffer and harder to bend. If you take writing paper and you roll it tightly into a tube, you will see that it becomes harder to bend. By adding more layers of paper, you make it stronger. 

various types of paper
Various types of paper (KatarzynaBialasiewicz, iStockphoto)

 

Why does it matter?

Bridges come in many shapes and sizes. What they all have in common is that they help people and things cross gaps. Bridges need to be strong enough so that they do not fall down when heavy things are on them. Part of what makes bridges strong is what they are made of. Bridges are also strong because of their shape. For example, you can often see triangle shapes supporting bridges. This is because triangles are a very strong shape. You may have created something like this to support your own bridge.

Train bridge
Train bridge (luplupme via iStockphoto).

 

Why does it matter?

Bridges come in many shapes and sizes. What they all have in common is that they help people and things cross gaps. Bridges need to be strong enough so that they do not fall down when heavy things are on them. Part of what makes bridges strong is what they are made of. Bridges are also strong because of their shape. For example, you can often see triangle shapes supporting bridges. This is because triangles are a very strong shape. You may have created something like this to support your own bridge.

Train bridge
Train bridge (luplupme via iStockphoto).

 

Investigate further
  • Stack more books on top of each other so that your bridge is higher off the ground. Now test the strength of your bridge. Did it make any differences?
  • Try using a different material from home to make a bridge. What did you use? Is this bridge stronger or weaker than your paper bridge? Why do you think that is?

For more information on this topic check out these Let's Talk Science resources:

Investigate further
  • Stack more books on top of each other so that your bridge is higher off the ground. Now test the strength of your bridge. Did it make any differences?
  • Try using a different material from home to make a bridge. What did you use? Is this bridge stronger or weaker than your paper bridge? Why do you think that is?

For more information on this topic check out these Let's Talk Science resources: