This activity will be part of our book
FUNctional STEAM: 25 Real World Activities for Problem-Solving Kids!
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Do you think it is important to test how strong that cement is for the new bridge? Absolutely!! Material development and testing ensures that your materials are just right – strong enough, light enough, tough enough.
Develop and test your own mud bricks! How strong can you make them?
Time: 1 hr activity, 1-2 days drying time
What you need
□ Dirt (about 15 cups or 3.5 L)
□ Dead grass
□ Bucket with handle
□ 2 Smaller buckets or bowls
□ Stick for stirring
□ (2) 2×4 or 1×2 boards 16 – 24 in (40.5 – 56 cm) long
□ 6 cinder blocks
2 tables, 2 chairs
2 of anything equal in height, about 22 – 32in (56 – 81 cm) tall
□ Ruler or yardstick
Before you start
This is all about the scientific method! Do you remember the steps?
Observe – Hypothesize – Experiment – Analyze – Report
As you experiment with your bricks, adding extras to the mud to see what makes them stronger, you are performing steps of this method. Check out page 4 of the PDF for a scientific method sheet you can use for this and other experiments.
❶ Dig up or find 15 cups (3.5 L) of dirt and put it into the larger bucket. Break up the clumps and remove all rocks, sticks or other non-dirt things such as plastic or metal.
❷ Collect dead grass, sticks or anything you plan on adding to the dirt to strengthen it. We’ll call these “additives”. Make sure to shred and break up all additives as small as possible.
❸ Add water to the dirt in the bucket. Stir it in until it is fully mixed. Keep adding water and mixing until the mud is the consistency of cookie dough (but don’t eat it like cookie dough!).
❹ Take some of this plain mud without additives and make 2 bricks. Each should be 8 in x 3 in x 1 in thick (25.5 cm x 7.5 cm x 2.5 cm). The bricks will be the control of the experiment.
❺ Take out two bricks worth of mud (about 4.5 cups or 1 L) and put into a separate bowl or bucket. Using measuring cups, add the additive (grass or leaves) to the mud you just removed from the bucket and mix thoroughly. Make two more bricks the same size as the plain mud bricks. Make sure to label each brick and take notes on how much of what kind of additives you put into the brick mixture.
❻ Repeat step #5 and make two more bricks. This time, either double the additive you used before or try the same amount of a different additive. If you used grass in the second set of bricks, try using leaves or sticks in the third set.
❼ Put the bricks out to dry. Make sure all bricks are the same size and that they are placed in the same conditions to dry. It should take about 2 days in the sun, more in the shade or cold.
❽ LET’S TEST! Stack the cinder blocks in 2 piles, 14 in (35.5 cm) apart. Or you could use a couple of chairs or tables. It can be anything that is stable and stands about 22 – 32 in (56- 81 cm) off the ground. Set the 2×4’s or 1×2’s on the cinder blocks about 6 in (15 cm) apart. These will be the supports.
❾ Place a brick on the supports making sure they overlap about an inch on both sides. Hang an empty bucket by the handle on the center of the brick.
❿ Slowly fill the bucket with water until the brick breaks. Remove the broken brick from the bucket. With a ruler or yardstick, measure the depth of the water in the bucket and record it on your data sheet.
⓫ Repeat the testing in steps #8 – #10 for each hand-made brick.
Think about it
Compare the results for each type of brick. Discuss these questions with your parent or guardian.
- Which type of brick held the most weight?
- Why do you think this type of brick was
- What could you do to follow up on this
experiment to determine the strongest type
Create a new set of bricks that is at least 20% stronger than your strongest brick. Hint: Use the recipe for the strongest type of brick as the control.
STEAM careers – Metallurgy
Metallurgists have been involved in material development for ages! Creating new alloys and metal working processes pushes us forward into new technologies. Lighter, stronger metals for flying cars and more efficient conductors for all our electronics.
Now with the rise of 3D printing is the challenge of providing strong metals for such a versatile machine.