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Abstract

Bridges must be strong and bear a great deal of weight, or force, to keep us safe as we travel across them. Basic geometric shapes are used in bridge design - namely, squares, triangles, rectangles and half circles. If we use two different geometric shapes, a square and a triangle, to create the structure for a bridge's supports, which one would be able to bear more weight? This science project demonstrates a basic concept of engineering to help us understand why certain shapes are used, and which shapes withstand the most force.

Hypothesis

If a bridge is built with triangle-shaped supports, then it will be stronger and hold more weight than a bridge built with square-shaped supports.

Objective

In this science project, you will build two model bridge decks, one with the main supports made of triangle-shaped supports and a second made of square-shaped supports. You will then test each bridge to see which bridge supports more weight.

Scientific Terms

triangle, square, vertex, base, truss, force

Background

Bridges are purposefully designed, or engineered, using geometric shapes that distribute force, thus making the structure strong enough to bear weight. Force is the "push" from the weight being placed on it. The bridge must bear not only the weight of the materials used to make the bridge, but also the weight of of any traffic travelling across it. One shape that distributes force effectively is a triangle.

But why is a triangle stronger than a square? This is because of how a triangle distributes or carries a force. When a load is placed at any vertex (corner) of a triangle, the force is evenly distributed and the shape remains stable. The force is carried equally to the base on both of its sides.

How a triangle distributes forces

The square, on the other hand, has a weak center. The top of the square carries the force of the entire load. This is also why a roof of a house is so often trianglular in shape: a square roof will collapse more easily, but a triangular shaped roof will be very strong and stable.

In bridge design, triangles are used in a series or pattern to achieve structural strength. This set of connecting triangles used is called a truss. Connecting multiple triangles together as a truss forms a stronger structure than using just a single triangle.

anatomy of a truss bridge
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    Complexity level:
    5
    Project cost ($):
    Time required:
    The glue needs to thoroughly dry (2-3 days) prior to testing the bridge's integrity and ability to bear a load.
    Material availability:
    Safety concerns: