Paper Tower

As they make the tallest tower possible out of a couple of sheets of newspaper, students discover basic construction concepts such as the forces acting on the tower, the impact of shape on the strength of a material, and the importance of distributing weight to create stability.

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Overview

Materials

Per Individual:

  • 2 sheets of newspaper
  • ruler

Instructions

  1. Build the tallest tower you can. You can bend, tear, crumple, or roll the newspaper.
  2. Try to make the tower taller. Keep redesigning it until you can’t go any higher.
  3. Use the ruler to measure the height of your tower. It must stand for at least 30 seconds without falling over.

ZoomOn

How can you make your tower even taller? What happens if you add 30cm (about 8 in.) of tape? What happens if you use books as a foundation to support the bottom of the structure? Or, what happens if you use a different type of paper, like tissue paper, copier paper, or cardboard? Choose one thing to change (that’s the variable) and make a prediction. Then test it and send your results to ZOOM.

Engineering & science connections

How can you make a weak material like newspaper strong enough to stand up? One way is to change its shape, like rolling it into a tube, crumpling it, or pleating it with folds. You also need to think about the different forces that are acting on it. The tower’s weight is pulling the tower down. The surface on which the tower is resting is pushing back up. Small air movements are also pushing from the side and can blow the tower over. If you build a wide base at the bottom, this distributes the weight over a wider area and makes the tower more stable.

ZOOM INTO ENGINEERING is a partnership of WGBH and National Engineers Week. National Engineers Week 2002 chairs: DuPont and the American Society of Civil Engineers. © 2001 WGBH Educational Foundation.All rights reserved. ZOOM and the ZOOM words and related indicia are trademarks of the WGBH Educational Foundation. Used with permission. ZOOM is produced by WGBH Boston. Funding for ZOOM is provided by the National Science Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public television viewers.Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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