Backpack Science with Ken Finn: Surprising Structures

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Backpack Science

Backpack Science is a summer series of easy at-home experiments geek dads can perform with their kids while school’s out. It is written by (San Francisco) Exploratorium science educator Ken Finn. This article is #5; you can find the whole series here.

Surprising Structures

My daughters and I love to build shockingly giant structures from this super-lightweight material. Newspaper can be found everywhere, and what better way to put it to good use before it’s recycled than to build a massive tower? Every time we do this project, we’re amazed by the strength of one sheet of tightly rolled newspaper.

What you’ll need:

  • newspaper
  • tape

How it’s done:

  1. newspaperRoll up a sheet of newspaper into a long, tight “stick” shape. Do this for 3 sheets.
  2. Tape 3 “sticks” together to form a big triangle.
  3. Create 4 big triangles and tape them together to make a tetrahedron, or a pyramid shape. This pyramid will be able to stand on its own.
  4. tetrahedronTape 6 or 7 tetrahedrons together to create a ground base for the tower.
  5. Repeat steps 1-3, taping each new tetrahedron on top of the existing structure layers to build the tallest tower you possibly can. When it gets too tall to reach the top, start adding layers to the bottom of the structure instead.

Surprising Structures (images included), excerpted with permission from The Science Explorer, 1997, published by Exploratorium © Exploratorium, All Rights Reserved.

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