Physical Science Activities
Building Bridges

These physical science activities are easy and fun to do. You will be creating three different bridges out of paper to see how much weight they can hold.

Physical science activities, Testing paper briges, Photo by Myrna Martin
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Materials

  • Sheet of plain paper
  • Bridge supports (plastic buckets, books, etc.)
  • Paper plate or cup
  • Pennies or washers

Directions

  1. Create two bridge supports that are the same height.
  2. You can use books, plastic buckets or blocks of wood.
  3. The first bridge you will build is very simple. Simple lay a piece of paper between the two bridge supports.
  4. Test to see how much weight the bridge will hold by placing a paper plate on the bridge and adding pennies, one at a time, to the paper plate.
  5. If the bridge supports are close together slowly pull them apart testing the carrying load of your bridge.
  6. This was the first type of bridges built by people. People would simply put a log across a stream that was too swift to cross on foot.
  7. The second bridge you will build is an arch bridge. Bring the two bridge supports so they are 6 inches apart.
  8. Place your paper between the two bridge supports so it forms an arch. Test the carrying capacity of this bridge. This bridge design was first used by the Greeks during the Bronze Age.
  9. Fold your paper like a fan or accordion.
  10. Place your "fan" bridge on top of the bridge supports. Test the carrying load of the bridge the same way you did the previous two bridges.
  11. Compare the carrying capacity of the three bridges.

Science behind the activity

In these physical science activities you can see that bridges which spread out the force or weight are stronger than bridges that do not.

  • The first bridge's weight was directed at the edge of the two bridge supports.
  • The arch bridge weight is supported by the abutments at either side of the arch.
  •  The "fan" bridge's weight is shared with many support structures making it very strong. The larger and fewer number of folds of the fan the more weight it can support.

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