Engineering always makes for cool science fair projects. As the most applied of all sciences, engineering is all around us in our everyday life.
Your school, your house, the roads you use to drive between them, and the computer you are using to read these words, were all designed and built by engineers applying scientific concepts to real-world needs.
Temperature and Corrosion
Corrosion, the slow process of chemicals wearing down metals and other building materials, has been a problem for engineers since ancient times. Here are cool science fair projects that will teach you about what makes corrosion do its damage more quickly or more slowly.
- 3 small pieces of aluminum plating (they should all be the same size)
- 3 beakers, large glasses, or bowls
- 30g salt
- 60g ferric chloride (available online or at industrial supply stores)
- 1 bottle vegetable oil
- 1 lamp with 40-watt bulb
- 3 thermometers
- 1 spatula
1. Come up with your hypothesis – do you think metal will corrode more quickly in hot, cold, or mild temperatures?
2. Measure out 2 cups of water into each of your containers. Add 10g salt and 20g ferric chloride. Mix well with spatula
3. Place a piece of aluminum and a thermometer in each container. Then cover the water with a thin layer of oil to protect it.
4. Put one beaker in the refrigerator, one under the lamp, and the other on a shelf somewhere where it won’t be disturbed. After about an hour or so, come back to record initial temperature.
5. Come back 2-3 times per day to check on your aluminum. On your data sheet, write down the time, temperature, and whether or not there is any rust-like corrosion on the aluminum.
6. After 5 days, analyze your data. Calculate the average temperature for each container, then compare that to the number of hours it took for the aluminum to develop its first corrosion. Create a graph with temperature on the x-axis (horizontal) and time to first corrosion in hours on the y-axis (vertical). Was your hypothesis confirmed?
*TIP: These are cool science projects on their own, but it is especially scientific if you triple it: place 3 containers in the fridge, 3 under separate lamps, and 3 on a shelf. This will ensure that your findings were the result of temperature and not some other variable.
Strength of Different Kinds of Wood
Wood has been used by engineers to build houses and tools for thousands of years. Here is a cool science fair project that tests the properties of different kinds of one, to see which ones are the toughest.
- 3 pine wood planks (thinner and longer is better – all planks should be identical in size)
- 3 oak wood planks
- 3 plywood planks
- sawhorse, vice, or other device to hold wood horizontally
- 10-20 cans of food, roughly the same weight (workout weights work even better, if you have some)
1. Come up with your hypothesis – how many pounds will it take to break each of the 3 kinds of wood?
2. Weigh all of your cans and write their weight on the side (note that fl. oz is a measure of volume, not weight)
3. Mark a spot 6 inches from one end of each plank of wood. Make sure it is in exactly the same place on all 9. This is where you will center the weight.
4. Secure the wood to the sawhorse or vice, horizontally with its broad side up. You an also use a table by asking a partner to lean on the other end of the wood, thus securing it to the table while the weight goes on the other end.
6. Once the weight is in place, let go. If the wood does not break, add a little more.
7. Continue in this way until the wood breaks, then write down the weight.
8. If the wood does not break, you can add more weight OR you may be using too thick a plank. Be aware that thicker planks require more weight to break, which can be dangerous.
9. Repeat with all 3 types of wood
10. Calculate the average weight it took to break planks of each type of wood. Which one was the strongest? Is this consistent with your hypothesis?
*TIP: For these cool science fair projects to work best, it’s good to hold the piece of wood while changing weights. Ensure that all weights are centered on the spot you marked, then let go. This will make your results more reliable.
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