Design and Construction of a Spaghetti Bridge Michael Karweit Department of Chemical Engineering Johns Hopkins University Why build a spaghetti bridge? 1) To take math and science out of the textbook and into a project involving design, planning, and construction.
Department of Chemical Engineering
Johns Hopkins University
1)To take math and science out of the textbook and into a
project involving design, planning, and construction.
2) Because the process is instructive and fun, and it exemplifies
the difficulties of putting theory into practice.
Math and science? Now I’m worried.
What kind of math and science?
In principle, you can build a bridge without math and science.
But if you want to build one that can carry a maximum load, then
you need to understand the material properties of spaghetti,
the theory of beams, and the physics of canceling forces (statics).
Spaghetti is very unforgiving. Design is much more important
in a spaghetti bridge than a toothpick one. Spaghetti is also
available in a nice form for construction--long cylindrical rods.
And, one can’t complain about the cost. . .
So, what’s the project goal?
To build a bridge out of only spaghetti and glue that
spans a meter, weighs no more than 750 gms, and
supports the heaviest load suspended from the center of
the span. The bridge is to be supported only by horizontal
surfaces at each end.
1. Ultimate tensile strength ~2000 psi
2. Stiffness (Young’s modulus) E ~10,000,000 psi
For comparison, cast aluminum (wet or dry):
1. Ultimate tensile strength ~10,000psi
2. Stiffness E~10,000,000psi
1) White glue: Not good. Since it’s water based, the
spaghetti is softened by the glue. Glue joints take
forever to dry. Once dry, joints are not very strong.
2) Model airplane glue: So so. Dries relatively quickly
but is slightly flexible when dry. Glue joints should
3) Hot-melt plastics (glue guns): Easiest to use, but
joints far too flexible.
4) Epoxy: Best solution--especially the 5 minute kind.
Creates rigid joints. Is messy. Requires careful mixing.
1) Purchase variety in two separate tubes with nozzle tips.
(Double plunger varieties are too wasteful.)
2) Mix epoxy and make glue joints on wax paper. Epoxy
releases from wax paper fairly readily.
3) Mix very small batches--enough for maybe 5 glue joints.
4) Proportions are very important--50 - 50. Too far away
from this ratio and epoxy will never harden. Many
bridges fail because of unhardened joints.
5) Squeeze same-size circular blobs of epoxy and hardener
onto wax paper. Look to see that they’re of similar height.
(You’re interested in equal volumes of epoxy and
hardener). Mix together with a matchstick. Dime-size
blobs yield enough epoxy for 6 or so joints.
6) Lacquer thinner (nail polisher remover) is good for
cleaning up uncured epoxy from surfaces and fingers.
Beam under tension
Failure occurs when ultimate tensile strength is exceeded.
Maximum load is tensile strength times cross-sectional area.
For regular spaghetti (diameter = 2mm), maximum load
is ~ 10 pounds.
Load capacity does not depend on length.
Beam in compression
Failure occurs two ways:
1) When L/d < 10, failure is by crushing
2) When L/d > 10, failure is by buckling
We are almost always concerned with failure by buckling.
Buckling strength F =k d4/L2
To determine constant of proportionality k:
1) measure length and diameter of a piece of spaghetti
2) hold spaghetti vertically on postal scale
3) press down on spaghetti until it begins to bend
4) read load F on postal scale
5) calculate k
If a beam of length L and diameter d can support a
compressive load of F,
then a beam of length L/2 and diameter d can
support a compressive load of 4F.
support a compressive load of 16F.
Bigger beams can be fabricated out of smaller beams,
as in a truss.
The fabricated beam will have the same buckling strength
as a solid beam, provided the buckling/tension strengths
of the component beams are not exceeded.
Very little strength. Never design a structure that
relies on bending strength to support a load.
1) At each joint or node:
2) Joints are assumed to carry no bending loads; therefore
all forces are compression or tension and lie in
the directions of the beams.
1) Triangles are a construction engineer’s best friend, i.e.
there are no bending moments in triangular elements.
Bad design (truss strength depends on bending
strengths of members)
2) Taller is better: note loads on these two structures.
3) Don’t forget about the 3rd dimension. A good design in the
x-y plane, may be a terrible one in the z-direction.
4) Recall: tension members do not need to be fabricated as
trusses. Their strength depends only on cross- sectional area.
5) Plan the total bridge design. Estimate the weight of each of
the components, so that you will not exceed the weight limit.
6) Make a full-size pattern of your bridge. Build the bridge on
this pattern. This will ensure that all components will
7) If a number of strands of spaghetti are to be used together as a
single member, do not glue their entire lengths. “Spot” glue them
at intervals of about 1”. This will provide adequate strength
without adding excessive weight.
8) For economy of time, joints should be “overlaid” not
“butted”. Butt joints require careful sizing. Overlaid joints
do not. Excess material may be cut off after assembly.
Total Weight < 750gms.
> 5cm. < 2mm.
< 50 cm