spaghetti tower

Students building towers for Engineering Month Presentation

Spaghetti Anyone? – Building with Pasta

Use the Engineering Design Process to build a structure to handle the greatest load. Gain first-hand experience with compression and tension forces Spaghetti Anyone? .pdf

  • Test factors affecting the strength and stability of a structure.
  • Use the design process to identify the problem and brainstorm, design, build, test, redesign and share solutions.
  • Measure and record strength and amount of weight the structure will hold.
  • You have * 18 minutes * to complete this challenge.


  • simplified – 15 sticks of uncooked thin spaghetti and 30 mini-marshmallows

Many forces are at work on towers. Gravity and the dead load of the tower push down, the ground pushes back up, and small air movements push from the side. A foundation distributes the load into the surrounding ground material and can help balance the sideways wind force. The size of the foundation depends on the strength of the supporting ground. A foundation placed in rock can be smaller than a foundation placed in sand or mud.

  • Create a design for your spaghetti structure.
  • Build the tower – spend time playing and prototyping. Start with the marshmallow and stick in the sticks
  • Redesign to correct for any structural flaws – Think about all of the ways you can alter the structure. Consider shapes and stability. Squares are weak and triangles are strong – [/see%20triangular%20trusses see triangular trusses]. Look at what others have done – learn from other discoveries. ex.1, ex.2
  • Draw the final design.
  • Measure and record the height of your structure – taller than 20″ is really good. More than 36″ is awesome!
  • Share your model and compare heights to other models.
  • identify the assumptions in the project – the real customer needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service – and test them early and often. That’s the mechanism that leads to effective innovation.

Engineering ideas

  • design process, structures, geometry, failure

What’s the problem?

  • What do engineers have to consider when they suggest which materials would be best for a certain structure?
    The strength of the materials, the types of forces acting on the structure, etc.
  • What forces cause the tower to tip over?
    Buildings fail when engineers do not use designs and materials that are strong enough to resist compressive and tensile forces.
  • What features of the design helped your tower to reach new heights?
  • After testing, what changes did you make to your tower?
  • Engineers early ideas rarely work out perfectly. How does testing help improve your design?
    Testing helps show what works and what doesn’t. Knowing this lets you improve a design by fixing the things that are not working well or could work better
  • What did you learn from watching others?

Do it
Challenges for you to work on…

  • demonstrate the tower’s structural strength and talk about how they solved their problems that came up during the design process.
  • describe the compression and tension forces as they relate to the strength of your structures.
  • make videos and pictures while working on the tower for presentations
  • keep journals and data sheets showing measurements and mathematical calculations

Use different materials

  • uncooked thick spaghetti. Marshmallows. 100 cm (1 m) of masking tape. Scissors (to cut spaghetti). Science journal. Pencil. Yardstick ruler or meter stick NASA SOI
  • Marshmallow Challenge – each kit containing twenty sticks of spaghetti, one yard of masking tape, one yard of string and ONE marshmallow – in a paper lunch bag for distribution (not part of structure)
  • wooden dowels and rubber bands

Objective: Tallest structure that supports the marshmallow – Groups of 4-6

Materials for each group

  • 20 pieces of spaghetti
  • 3 ft tape
  • 3 ft string
  • giant marshmallow

20 minutes to build.


  • string must stay as one piece
  • ok to cut up tape
  • structure may not be attached to any surface


  • after 10 minutes, no talking among the group for next 5 minutes

That’s engineering

  • Buckling: When a material bends under compression.
  • Compression: When a force pushes materials together. * Elasticity: The property of a material to bend or deflect, and then return to its original shape.
  • Force: Any influence that tends to accelerate an object; a push or a pull; force = mass x acceleration (F = ma: Newton’s 2nd law).
  • Load: The weight which a building or structure must carry. Dead load = the weight of the building itself plus all permanent fixtures, does not change. Live load = weight of objects which move in, out, or shift in the building (people, furniture, etc.), constantly changing.
  • Plasticity: The property of a material in which it does not return to its original form after a bend or deflection.
  • Shear: When a force slides materials against one another.
  • Tension: When a force pulls materials apart.
  • Torque: When a force twists materials.

Learn more…