Bridge building science projects with popsicle sticks

Written by danielle hill
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Bridge building science projects with popsicle sticks
Use Popsicle sticks to create a miniature bridge based on real bridge designs. (Bridge image by Hedgehog from

For an innovative and hands-on science project that teaches basic engineering principles, try building a miniature bridge out of Popsicle sticks. For an engineering challenge, attempt to make the bridge as strong but lightweight as possible. If you do the project as a competition among multiple students or teams, you can compare the strength of various bridge designs.

Truss Bridges

Truss bridges lend themselves well to Popsicle stick construction, using a series of stiff, straight elements, arranged to form a series of triangles. The triangles help to evenly distribute the force of the bridge's load, such as passing cars. Experiment with how many Popsicle sticks you use. For example, test whether doubled layers of Popsicle sticks provide enough additional strength to be worth their additional weight. In addition, you can test which shape triangle holds most efficiently, and whether a few broad shapes or many narrow ones make for a stronger overall structure.

Back to Basics

To meet the bare requirement of building a bridge, you might construct nothing more than a simple platform joining two surfaces. If your aim is to keep the bridge structure as simple as possible, begin with various approaches to the simple footbridge, trying various arrangements of the Popsicle sticks as a supportive platform. Test out how effectively you can build in greater strength without adding excessive bulk. For example, you may find that using Popsicle sticks to create an "I-beam" shape adds greater strength than a large scaffolding.

Materials Testing

While limiting your materials to Popsicle sticks tends to encourage exploration on the side of design, your project may still explore one variable in materials: glue. Once you've opted for a particular bridge design, build several models to the exact same specifications, with just one variation -- use a different type of glue for each bridge. Use wood glue, heavy-duty super glue, hot glue and regular craft glue. You can also test whether coating the bridge with stain has any appreciable effect on its performance.

Sophisticated Variations

Instead of simply designing for strength and lightness, add an additional factor to your design criteria: style. For example, you might look for a means of creating soft curves using straight Popsicle sticks. For another more sophisticated variation on the basic activity, make your bridge building a timed project; see how effectively you can design and construct in the space of an hour or two. Alternately, if you're working on a team project, you can see how bridge building fares as a group activity. You might have each team member submit a prototype during early planning stages or simply share sketches and select a single design together from the start.

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