Jump to main content

Fallen Arches: The Surprising Strength of Eggshells

887 reviews


Have you ever seen an arch structure in a building, such as over a doorway or surrounding large windows? Arches have been used for structural engineering since ancient times. This experiment tests the strength of a naturally occurring arch shape: the shell of an egg. How much mass do you think an eggshell can support?


Areas of Science
Time Required
Short (2-5 days)
Material Availability
Readily available
Low ($20 - $50)
Adult supervision and safety goggles are required if a rotary motor tool is used. Thoroughly clean any surface the raw eggs touched because they can carry Salmonella.

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., and Teisha Rowland, Ph.D., Science Buddies


  • This idea is from an entry to the 2007 San Mateo County Science Fair (author's name not provided).


To measure how much mass eggshells can support.


Arches have been used in structural engineering since ancient times. Figure 1, below, shows a Roman aqueduct (in Pont du Gard, France), built in about 19 B.C. Arches allow passage through a structure, for example: light through arched windows, or people through arched doorways, or water passing under arched bridges. The shape of the arch distributes the compressive forces to the load-bearing piers that support the arch. This in turn eliminates some tension stresses in the structure.

Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct built in France
Figure 1. Pont du Gard, France, a Roman aqueduct built about 19 B.C.

An eggshell is a natural example of an arch. One end of the shell has a larger, rounder arch, and the other end is narrower and more pointed. It is pretty easy to crack an eggshell if you tap it against a hard surface. But if you interlock your fingers and try to squeeze an egg lengthwise to break it, you will find that it can withstand more force than you might expect. (You might want to wear work gloves for this test, because the eggshell pieces will be sharp if you break the egg.)

In this experiment, you will measure the load-bearing capacity of eggshell arches. Before starting on your experiment, you should do background research on arches. Learn about different types of arches, and how strength changes with the shape of the arch. You should also do some background research on eggs to find out what material the shell is made from. After you have finished your background research, make a prediction about how much mass you think an eggshell can support. Then do your experiment and find out for yourself!

Terms and Concepts



Here are some webpages with information on arches and their use as structural supports:

For information on chicken eggs, see:

Materials and Equipment

Disclaimer: Science Buddies participates in affiliate programs with Home Science Tools, Amazon.com, Carolina Biological, and Jameco Electronics. Proceeds from the affiliate programs help support Science Buddies, a 501(c)(3) public charity, and keep our resources free for everyone. Our top priority is student learning. If you have any comments (positive or negative) related to purchases you've made for science projects from recommendations on our site, please let us know. Write to us at scibuddy@sciencebuddies.org.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Use a pencil or marker to mark a line all the way around one of the eggs, dividing the egg halfway between its two pointed ends, as shown in Figure 2. Use a ruler to determine the halfway point as you make the line.
    1. This line is where the eggshell will be cut. It should approximately be at the egg's widest point (width-wise, not length-wise).
An egg with a pencil mark drawn around its widest point rests next to a ruler
Figure 2. Draw a line around the middle of the egg, as shown here.
  1. Carefully crack the eggshell at the pointy end. Make a small hole and drain the contents of the egg into a bowl, as shown in Figure 3. (You can use the egg contents for cooking.) Rinse the empty eggshell out with some water.
A hole is made near the top of an egg and its contents are poured out
Figure 3. Carefully crack the pointed end of the egg and empty the contents.
  1. Use a triangular file (or rotary motor tool with a cut-off disk) to score the eggshell on your marked line, all the way around. Follow your marked line carefully, and be sure not to hold the empty egg so tightly that it cracks.
    1. If doing this by hand, use the triangular file as shown in Figure 4. File it enough so that you can easily feel and see a dent, as shown in Figure 5.
    2. If you are using a rotary tool with a cut-off disk, work with an experienced adult and be sure to wear safety goggles. You may also want to wear a dust mask. You will need to work slowly, using just the edge of the cut-off disk.
    3. Note: If the egg develops hairline cracks or big chips on the more rounded half, start over (from step 1) with a fresh egg. There should be no cracks or big chips weakening your prepared eggshells.
A triangular file scores the shell of an egg
Figure 4. You can use a triangular file to score the eggshell along the marked line.

An emptied eggshell with a score line around the widest section
Figure 5. When the eggshell has been scored using the file, there should be a visible dent on the eggshell where you made the line.
  1. Carefully break or cut the eggshell back to the scored line you created, as shown in Figure 6. You will want to carefully break off small pieces of the shell, working your way around. This can be tricky so take your time.
    1. Note: It is okay if the edge is a little jagged, but if big chips or hairline cracks develop that go into the more rounded half of the egg, you will want to start over (from step 1) with a fresh egg.
An eggshell with the top half removed
Figure 6. If you used a triangular file to score the eggshell, now carefully break the eggshell back to the scored line. You will want the rounded half of the egg to end at the scored line.
  1. Repeat steps 1–4 two more times so that you have prepared a total of three eggshells. Make each prepared eggshell be the same height.
  2. Place the prepared eggshells on a flat surface, like a dinner plate, with their open end facing down. The distance between each of the eggshells should be equal (i.e., the eggshells should form an equilateral triangle), as shown in Figure 7.
Three halved eggshells are placed in a triangle on a plate
Figure 7. Arrange the eggshells so that they are equally spaced from each other on the flat test surface, with their open ends facing down.
  1. Carefully lay a hardcover book on top of the three eggshells, as shown in Figure 8. The book should be centered over the eggshells, so that the mass will be distributed evenly among them.
A book rests on three halfed eggshells
Figure 8. Carefully place a hardcover book centered over the eggshells.
  1. One at a time, carefully add magazines, as shown in Figure 9, to see how much mass the eggshells can support. Stop adding magazines when the eggshells crack and break.
A book and two magazines rest on three halved eggshells
Figure 9. Carefully place magazines, one at a time, on top of the book.
  1. Use the kitchen scale to measure the combined mass (in grams [g]) of the book and magazines that the eggshells supported without breaking. Depending on how much mass the scale can measure, you may need to weigh the book and magazines individually. Record your results in your lab notebook.
  2. Repeat steps 1–9 at least two more times so that you have done your experiment using at least three different sets of eggshells.
  3. When you are done with your tests, thoroughly clean any surface the raw eggs (including the shells) touched because they may carry Salmonella. Also, wash your hands thoroughly with soap.
  4. Calculate the average mass supported, per eggshell, for each set of eggshells.
  5. Calculate the overall average mass supported, per eggshell, by calculating the average for the three sets of eggshells.
  6. More advanced students should also calculate the standard deviation to see how much variability there was in the results.
  7. Make a bar graph of your results. On the y-axis (the vertical axis), put the mass (in grams) that the eggshells supported per eggshell. On the x-axis (the horizontal axis), you can put either all three eggshell sets (as three separate bars) or the average of the three sets (as one bar). If you calculated the standard deviation, you include that on your graph as well.
  8. Overall, how much mass could each eggshell usually support? Did you see much variation between your three different eggshell sets? Are your results surprising to you?
icon scientific method

Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.


  • In this experiment, you broke the pointy end of the egg, and measured the strength of the arch made from the larger diameter curve. What do you think the results would be if you instead broke the larger end of the egg, and tested the strength of the "pointy" arch?
  • Legend has it that the dome of Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, was based on the shape of an eggshell, cut in half parallel to its long axis. How much load-bearing capacity do eggshells have when prepared this way?
  • Here is another (slightly messier) way to measure the strength of eggshells using whole eggs and a simple experimental apparatus:


If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

Career Profile
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… Read more
Career Profile
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,… Read more
Career Profile
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. Read more

News Feed on This Topic

, ,

Cite This Page

General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Fallen Arches: The Surprising Strength of Eggshells." Science Buddies, 23 June 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/MatlSci_p021/materials-science/strength-of-eggshells. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, June 23). Fallen Arches: The Surprising Strength of Eggshells. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/MatlSci_p021/materials-science/strength-of-eggshells

Last edit date: 2020-06-23
Free science fair projects.