*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.
Using just a single sheet of paper (8.5 × 11 inches) and up to five paper clips, can you build a bridge that will span 20 cm and support the weight of 100 pennies? The area beneath the span must be free (so that boats can pass beneath it). To test your bridge, place two books 20 cm apart, and set the bridge on the books, spanning the gap. Do not fasten the bridge to the book (nor to any other support). Does your bridge hold as much weight as you expected it would? If your bridge fails during testing, describe where and how it failed. As you're building or testing your bridge, you will probably get ideas for ways to improve your design. Try them out! When loading the bridge with pennies, does it matter if you spread them out evenly or put them all in the center? Why or why not? (WGBH Staff, 2000)
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If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
Have you ever visited family members for the holidays? You might have started your trip by taking the subway or a train to the airport. Then you jumped on a plane and flew to your destination. Finally, a family member picked you up in his or her car and drove you home. You traveled hundreds of miles in just one day. How did this happen? Who planned the subway route to the airport? Who decided the position of the airport runway? Who designed the highways and roadways? The answer to all of these questions is the transportation engineer. The goal of the transportation engineer is to move people and goods safely and efficiently.
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.
Mechanical engineers are part of your everyday life, designing the spoon you used to eat your breakfast, your breakfast's packaging, the flip-top cap on your toothpaste tube, the zipper on your jacket, the car, bike, or bus you took to school, the chair you sat in, the door handle you grasped and the hinges it opened on, and the ballpoint pen you used to take your test. Virtually every object that you see around you has passed through the hands of a mechanical engineer. Consequently, their skills are in demand to design millions of different products in almost every type of industry.
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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