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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.

2) Because the process is instructive and fun, and it exemplifies


the difficulties of putting theory into practice.

Math and science? Now Im 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).
Why spaghetti? Why not toothpicks or balsa wood?

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 cant complain about the cost. . .

So, whats the project goal?

To build a bridge out of only spaghetti and glue that


spans a 50 cm, weighs no more than 250 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.
Some properties of spaghetti (dry)

1. Ultimate tensile strength ~2000 psi

2. Stiffness (Youngs modulus) E ~10,000,000 psi


(E=stress/strain)

For comparison, cast aluminum (wet or dry):

1. Ultimate tensile strength ~10,000psi

2. Stiffness E~10,000,000psi
Glues:

1) White glue: Not good. Since its 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
be rigid.

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.
Using 5-minute epoxy:

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.
Using 5-minute epoxy (continued):

5) Squeeze same-size circular blobs of epoxy and hardener


onto wax paper. Look to see that theyre of similar height.
(Youre 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.
Beams and loads--tension:

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.


Beams and loads--compression:
d

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.


Beams and loads--compressive 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
Some consequences of buckling properties:

If a beam of length L and diameter d can support a


compressive load of F,
F d

then a beam of length L/2 and diameter d can


support a compressive load of 4F.
4F d

L/2
and a beam of length L and diameter 2d can
support a compressive load of 16F.
2d
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.
Beams and loads--bending:

Very little strength. Never design a structure that


relies on bending strength to support a load.
Statics:

1) At each joint or node: F 0, F 0, F 0


x y z

2) Joints are assumed to carry no bending loads; therefore


all forces are compression or tension and lie in
the directions of the beams.

x
-F

F/2 F/2
Use Bridge Designer to calculate loads:

http://www.jhu.edu/~virtlab/bridge/bridge.htm
Design and construction ideas:

1) Triangles are a construction engineers best friend, i.e.


there are no bending moments in triangular elements.

Good design

Bad design (truss strength depends on bending


strengths of members)
Design and construction ideas (cont.):

2) Taller is better: note loads on these two structures.


Design and construction ideas (cont.):

3) Dont 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
assemble properly.
Design and construction ideas (cont.):

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.

Butt joints Overlaid joints


Which is the better design and why (cont.)?

a) b)

a) b)
Which is the better design and why?

a) b)

a) b)
Bridge Schematic:

Total Weight < 250gms.

> 5cm. < 2mm.


Bridge Decking
Loading Platform
and U-bolt
< 25 cm

< 5cm
Load
50 cm