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  • Gloria Hoffner

Science of Paper Strength

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

Science activities do not have to be expensive. You can teach real physics facts with everyday materials, such as paper.




Today's activity uses different forms of household paper to explain a few rules of physics. Fun facts: 1) What is paper? Answer - By definition paper is a material manufactured in thin sheets from the pulp of wood or other fibrous substances, used for writing, drawing, or printing on, or as wrapping material. 2) Who invented paper? Answer - The credit goes to Ts'ai of China about 2,000 years ago. 3) What was the original material used to make paper? Answer - A combination of cloth and plant fibers. 4) When did Europeans start making paper? Answer - In the 1700s they began making paper from cotton and linen fibers. 5) Originally, all paper was made by hand. When did this change? Answer - In 1798 Nicolas Robert in France built the first paper making machine. 6) What was the paper making machine called? Answer - Fourdrinier. 7) What is today's most common paper made from? Answer - Wood pulp. The change came when humans observed wasps building nest from chewing wood into pulp. 8) How many kinds of paper can you name? Answer - wax paper, stationary, cardboard, newsprint, wallpaper, wrapping paper, tissue paper, contact paper, index cards... keep the answers going! 9) What is cardboard? Answer - Cardboard is a heavy-duty paper stock known as paperboard. It is used in lightweight applications such as cereal boxes and other smaller consumer goods packages. 10) What is corrugated paper? Answer - Corrugated material is made up of three different layers of paper: an inside liner, an outside liner and fluting which runs in between. This design provides strength used often for shipping boxes and pizza delivery boxes. 11) Who created the cardboard box that folds flat when not in use? Answer - Scottish-born Robert Gair invented the pre-cut paperboard box in 1890. His invention resulted from an accident. Gair was a Brooklyn printer and paper-bag maker during the 1870s. One day while he was printing seed bags, a metal ruler used to crease bags shifted in position and cut them. Experiment: How does the structure of the paper increase it's strength? Materials: Four sheets of 8 by 11 stationary, one 8 ounce canned food item, tape and several paperback and hardback books. Process: 1) Fold one sheet of paper in half. 2) Fold a second piece of paper in thirds and tape the ends together. 3) Fold a sheet of paper in half lengthwise and cut into two pieces. Fold the pieces into a rectangle and tape to hold the side together. 4) Roll a sheet of paper around the canned food item. Tape this cylinder together and lift off the can. 5) Line up all four paper designs on a table. Have residents take turns placing one book on each paper design. Which design holds the book and in which case does the paper crumble? Add books until every design crumbles. Result: The round cylinder will hold the most weight. This is because this shape distributes weights evenly over the structure. Experiment: What makes cardboard stronger than a single sheet of paper? Materials: Three sheets of computer paper, one ice tea glass and two same sized canned food cans. Process: Using one sheet of paper, make a fold 1/4 inch from the edge lengthwise and keep making this fold until you have pleated fan shape. Use the second and third sheets of paper to make a paper cylinder around the cans. Then remove the cylinder from the cans. Place the cans on a table with a few inches between them and then place the accordion folded sheet on paper on top of the two cans. Finally, place the glass on top of the folded paper. Result: Folding the paper makes a series of triangles, called corrugations. These corrugations make the paper more rigid or stiff, which allows the paper to hold up the glass. The angles of a triangle cannot be changed because each angle is fixed by the side opposite it. This makes triangles a strong shape. Thus the corrugated paper, with its series of triangles, is able to hold a lot more weight than the flat piece of paper. Experiment: How strong is corrugated paper? Materials: Corrugated box (Amazon box would be perfect) scissors, cutting board, one liter juice can and tape. Process: Cut a strip 4 inches by 12 inches from the box. Wrap this material around the juice can. Tape the sides of the cylinder together and lift off the juice can. Place the cylinder on the floor and put the cutting board on top of the cylinder. Stand on the board. Results: The board will hold your weight. This happens because the combined strength as a result of the folds in the corrugated paper and the circular shape which evenly distributes your weight. Experiment: Blow the newspaper down. Materials: A newspaper, table, and a 12 inch wooden ruler. Process: Place the ruler so that 2 inches of the ruler extend from the edge of the table into open space. Spread an open newspaper over the ruler flat against the edge of the table. Hit the ruler with your hand. Result: The newspaper does not move. Air pressure is holding the paper down with about 15 pounds of pressure on every square inch of surface. For a full section of newspaper, this equals about two tons of air pressure. Want more ideas? Buy the easy to use step by step books from The Original Science for Seniors created by Gloria Hoffner in 2007 and presented in more than 28 states and Canada! Scienceforseniors.net On the dashboard, you have everything you need to manage your blog in one place. You can create new posts, set categories and more. To head to your Dashboard, open the Wix Editor and click on Blog > Posts.


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