Science Project Ideas for Six Simple Machines

Written by carlos mano
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Science Project Ideas for Six Simple Machines
Complex machines are made up of six simple machines. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Archimedes listed three simple machines that made up more complex machines: the screw, the lever and the pulley. In Renaissance times, three more were added: the inclined plane, the wedge and the wheel. The complex machines we see every day -- bicycles, automobiles, aeroplanes and helicopters -- are made up of these six simple machines.

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The story of the six simple machines has ample material for a science project. The history of these ideas makes a good introductory poster. Each of the six machines can have its own poster with pictures of the specific simple machine in use in common household and schoolroom devices. Each poster can also have the mathematical formulas that describe the machine. Small working models of each of the six simple machines make a good central display. Poster displays like this should leave the viewer with something to think about, such as "Can you think of a candidate for a seventh simple machine?"

One Simple Machine

Choosing one of the six simple machines and exploring it in depth also makes a good science project. The introductory poster can relate this machine to the six simple machines. Other posters can show this simple machine in several different settings, such as at home, in the classroom, in a car or on an aeroplane. For a single machine project, there should be one poster that gives a complete mathematical treatment of the machine -- all relevant formulas plus several examples that relate the machine to the viewer's experience. There should be several working models of the subject of the project.

Simple Constitutes of Complex Machines

An interesting way to present the six simple machines is to locate them as parts of familiar complex machines. For example, on aeroplanes there are screws everywhere holding things together, the stick and rudder are both levers, and both of these levers pull wires that go around pulleys before activating control surfaces. The wings are wedges, an inclined plane helps move cargo on and off the aeroplane, and wheels are a central feature of the landing gear. The six simple machines can also be found on a car, bicycle and motorboat. You can build a "Rube Goldberg" machine out of the six simple machines for a central display in this project.

Leonardo's Simple Machines

Leonardo da Vinci had a lot of inventions, and he made beautiful drawings of all of them. The six simple machines appear over and over in his designs -- sometimes in unusual ways. For example, his helicopter used a device that looked like a screw. Today's helicopter uses a combination of the wheel and wedge-shaped blades. The nice thing about a Leonardo exhibit is that you have all those great drawings in the public domain for educational purposes. Leonardo's notebooks also discusses the six basic machines and quotes from Leonardo make a nice addition to your project.

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