Marshmallow & spaghetti towers : Fizzics Education

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Marshmallow & spaghetti towers

Marshmallow & spaghetti towers

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

You will need:

A packet of spaghetti

A packet of marshmallows

A measuring tape

A dustpan and broom nearby (expect lots of spaghetti breakages!)

Patience!

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Forming a cube shaped marshmallow tower
1 A square formed by spaghetti strands and marshmallows

Have a think about how the base of your marshmallow tower will work.

  • Will this be a triangle?
  • What about a square?
  • Why not try a pentagon?

This planning will help you in the long run! Start to form the base of your tower by gently pushing the spaghetti strands into your marshmallows.

2 A pyramid made of marshmallows and spaghetti

Begin to form some height with your spaghetti strands. You might try going straight upwards or perhaps you might want to try smaller modular units that can be put together repetitively.

3 Two marshmallow pyramids joined together on the ground

If trying the modular route, consider how this will scale upwards as you build. Keep the dimensions the same for each unit if you choose this build strategy!

4 A cube shape made of marshmallow and spaghetti

Try different shapes! You might find that you need to create some extra ‘connector marshmallows’ to hold your shape together!

Does this tell you something about how the forces work within your tower?

5 A television screen showing a distance educator running science experiment with a bell jar, vacuum pump and a cup of water. There is an inset of a remote class on the screen and a video conference camera on top of the television.
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What is this about?

Building marshmallow and spaghetti towers is really about exploring forces and construction materials.

  • Spaghetti can a little bit of force travelling down the length of the strand but will very quickly snap if it is bent. This means that you need to consider how force is transferred through each spaghetti strand.  You would have found that the arrangement of your spaghetti strands into triangular shapes would have produced the most stable structure. This is not a coincidence! Triangles have been used for several thousand years to transfer forces evenly through structures such as the pyramids, bridges and houses.
  • Marshmallows are gooey in their centre. This means that the marshmallows can be easily torn if a shearing force is applied. You would have found that your marshmallows also introduced a mass distribution problem… too many marshmallows to one side and the tower would have fallen down!

Applications

Understanding how forces flow through a structure is critical for engineering. These days, computer modelling is applied to test the effect of different structural arrangements and material types to determine the optimum design of a building. Every material have known breaking points, plus different arrangement of materials produces different arrangements of compression forces (squishing together) and tension forces (pulling apart) in different areas. If the structure is not strong enough to handle those forces, the structure is at risk of breaking apart.

Variables to explore

  • Try different brands or ages of marshmallows. Does this make a difference?
  • Would binding spaghetti strands together increase the strength, and thereby height, of your tower?
  • Try using jelly babies as the binding material for the spaghetti strands instead.
  • Will it matter if you build your tower on a cold or hot day?

Learn more!

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