Paper and Cardboard Column Challenge
Hosted by: UT Austin American Rock Mechanics Association
Visit our Booth: Saturday, March 6, 2021, 12 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Join in for 2 challenges and learn about force, load, and compression as you explore the load-bearing properties of columns by testing:
- paper columns of different shapes
- different materials within toilet paper tubes
Recommended Grades: 3-5
Share your creations and tests on Flipgrid.
Challenge 1: Which paper column can hold the most books?
Have you noticed columns in buildings? What shape are the columns? Early architects in several ancient civilizations used columns in architecture including the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. We use columns to hold buildings up and support structures. But which shape is the strongest?
- 3 pieces of paper
- Books for weights
- Work with your partner
- Fold each paper into three shapes and secure your differently shaped columns with tape: triangle (triangular prism), square (rectangular prism), circle (cylinder). See the image above on the far right for examples.
- Slowly pile same size books on top of each differently shaped column.
Which shape column supported the most books?
Challenge 2: Cardboard Column
Can you make a cardboard column strong enough to hold your weight?
- 3 toilet paper tubes
- Sand or salt
- Marbles or pebbles
- Dishpan, tray, or cardboard box lid
- Masking tape
- Sturdy chair
Work with your partner
Make a Prediction:
- Predict whether a toilet-paper tube can withstand the compression caused by your weight. Explain the reason for your prediction.
Try It Out:
- Place an empty dishpan, tray, or box lid on the floor. Stand an empty toilet-paper tube (the column) on one end in the pan.
- While holding on to the back of the chair with both hands, gradually press straight down on the top of the column with one foot. Continue increasing your weight on the column until it collapses. Use this scale to rate the column's strength:
|1||Very weak! It crumples or breaks with hardly any force.|
|2||Only fair—it can not withstand much force.|
|3||Pretty good—it takes a lot of force to break it.|
|4||Super strong! We can't break it.|
- Observe the collapsed tube to see where it failed. How can you make the column stronger, using only tape and sand? Repeat Step 2 using the second toilet-paper tube and your new design.
How did the strength ratings for the two columns compare? Explain what you think accounted for any difference. Were you surprised by the results of this activity? Why or why not?
Build on It
Is there any difference in strength between a column filled with small particles, like sand or salt, and a column filled with big particles, like marbles or pebbles? Make a prediction and test it.
Can you make a cardboard column strong enough to hold your weight?
If you were an engineer designing a column to support a very heavy load, what would you conclude was the way to make it strongest, based on these tests?
How does this activity connect to STEM and today's Girl Day theme of Moving Around: Land, Water, Air, and Space? Columns are all around us. They keep our buildings and bridges safe and strong. Columns can be designed to hold up buildings or bridges when everything else may be moving around them - cars on top of bridges, earthquakes, water in a flowing river, air, and more. See the Activity Videos tab for more engineering and science connections.
Now you know that the same sized piece of card paper can hold different amounts of weight based on how it’s shaped. Check out the video below for more info.
Ever wanted to build a bridge out of pasta? It’s not too hard and works better than you’d think.
Breaking rocks in our laboratory starting with drilling samples from large blocks, breaking the rocks in our machines, and finalizing with 3D imaging of the broken samples.
Engineering & Science Connections
- Columns are vertical structural members designed to pass through a compressive load. Columns pass the load from above (ceiling, roof, or beam) to the structural elements below (foundation). The load pushes on the column and compresses it. If a structural column collapses, the entire structure may collapse.
- Columns are one of the basic building blocks of any frame building. Engineers have to design columns that are very strong under compression in order to keep buildings safe. Columns can be made from stone, wood, steel, brick, marble, or other composite materials. Columns have been a common structural feature of buildings throughout history, but some of them are now designed to be purely decorative and are hollow or even made from foam!
- The tallest building in the world is the Burj Dubai at 2,722 feet tall. It was built using concrete columns and floors. When a building is this tall, the compressive strength of the columns is extremely important, but an engineer must also consider lateral (sideways) loads.
- Some of the earliest civilizations to employ the use of columns were the Minoans. The Minoans made columns out of whole tree trunks that they turned upside down (to prevent regrowth). Caps and bases made of stone or wood were fitted on the ends of each column and then painted.
This activity is from American Society of Civil Engineers: Building Big.
Our website: https://sites.google.com/view/utaustinarma/home
What is ARMA?
ARMA is a professional and international engineering and scientific society that promotes interaction among rock mechanics and geomechanics specialists, practitioners and academics alike. A strong student membership ensures future continuity. ARMA advocates for firms and individuals in all aspects of rock mechanics, rock engineering, and geomechanics. ARMA provides a communications link, a forum, and an information resource for members, related organizations, and the public.
Who We Are at UT
We are the American Rock Mechanics Association (ARMA) Student Chapter at The University of Texas at Austin. Our goal is to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration, foster scientific research, advance the science of geomechanics/rock mechanics, develop leadership experience and group interaction skills, educate students on career opportunities, and promote the national chapter and educate students on their benefits.
We are currently represented by 2 schools (Cockrell School of Engineering and Jackson School of Geosciences), and 5 departments (Hildebrand Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering, Department of Civil, Architectural, & Environmental Engineering, Department of Geological Sciences, Bureau of Economic Geology, and Institute for Geophysics). Our membership is free and open to ALL students (undergrad/grad), faculty, and staff at UT.