*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.
Start with 7 drinking straws and 14 paper clips. Use the paper clips to fasten the straws together. Here's how: 1) Clip two paper clips together, narrow end to narrow end. 2) Push the wide ends of each clip into the end of a straw. That's it! Connect four straws to make a square, and three straws to make a triangle. Now test which shape is stronger. Hold the shapes vertically, with an edge or a vertex resting on the tabletop. Have a helper push on the opposite side or vertex. Which shape distorts more easily? How can you strengthen it? (Hint: you can use two more straws and four more paper clips.) What is the most stable structure you can build using no more than 20 straws and 40 paper clips? How much weight will it support? (WGBH Staff, 2000)
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If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
The essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson called Greek architecture the "flowering of geometry." Architects blend art and science, designing structures for people, such as houses, apartments, schools, stores, malls, offices, places of worship, museums, sports stadiums, music theaters, and convention centers. Their designs must take into account not only the structure's appearance, but its safety, function, environmental impact, and cost. Architects often participate in all phases of design, from the initial consultation with the clients where the structure is envisioned, to its completion. Architects can enrich people lives by creating structures that are as beautiful to look at as they are functional to live, work, or shop in.
If you turned on a faucet, used a bathroom, or visited a public space (like a road, a building, or a bridge) today, then you've used or visited a project that civil engineers helped to design and build. Civil engineers work to improve travel and commerce, provide people with safe drinking water and sanitation, and protect communities from earthquakes and floods. This important and ancient work is combined with a desire to make structures that are as beautiful and environmentally sound, as they are functional and cost-effective.
Mathematicians are part of an ancient tradition of searching for patterns, conjecturing, and figuring out truths based on rigorous deduction. Some mathematicians focus on purely theoretical problems, with no obvious or immediate applications, except to advance our understanding of mathematics, while others focus on applied mathematics, where they try to solve problems in economics, business, science, physics, or engineering.
Civil Engineering Technician
Do you dream of building big? Civil engineering technicians help build some of the largest structures in the world—from buildings, bridges, and dams to highways, airfields, and wastewater treatment facilities. Many of these construction projects are "public works," meaning they strengthen and benefit a community, state, or the nation.
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