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Material Properties: Which Material Makes the Strongest Bridge?

1 review


Grade Range
Group Size
4 students
Active Time
80 minutes
Total Time
80 minutes
Area of Science
Materials Science
Civil Engineering
Key Concepts
Material properties, strength, flexibility, engin
Svenja Lohner, PhD, Science Buddies
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Video narration by Jennifer E Paz

This activity was inspired by Prof. Margot Vigeant of Bucknell University.
Special thanks to Cynthia Burke and Chris Bell for helpful discussions about this activity.

Free for a limited time thanks to individual donors


Bridges are made of many different materials: steel, stone, wood and even rope. How do engineers decide which materials to use? In this activity, your students will learn about material properties, test the strength and flexibility of several materials, and use their test information to predict which material will result in the strongest bridge. They will test their hypotheses by buiding simple bridges from each material and determining which bridge can hold the most weight.

Learning Objectives


For each student group:

For each student:

For teacher preparation:

Prep Work

  • Cut all of the building materials (thin paper, thick paper, aluminum foil, and wax or parchament paper) to be the same dimensions as a standard sheet of printer paper (8.5 by 11 inches in the United States; adjust as needed in other countries).
  • Set up a bridge testing station for each student group. At each test station, set up two stacks of books 10 inches (about 25 centimeters) apart. The height of the book stacks should be around 2 inches (about 5 centimeters). Use tape to mark where the book stacks should be placed, as shown below. This will help students re-adjust the location of the book stacks in case they get shifted during testing.
 Two 2-inch-high stacks of books spaced about 10 inches apart. The location of the books is marked with tape.
  • Print out a worksheet for each student.

Prep Work ()

Engage (10 minutes)

Explore (60 minutes. Can be split into two 30-minute parts.)

Reflect (10 minutes)



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