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Hands-on Engineering Challenge: Create a Dome

Follow the steps in this project to make your own geodesic dome to see how this engineering feat creates a strong structure.
engineering challenge

If you turned on a faucet, used a bathroom, or visited a public space (like a road, a building, or a bridge) today, then you’ve used or visited a project that civil engineers helped to design and build. Civil engineers work to improve travel and commerce, provide people with safe drinking water and sanitation, and protect communities from earthquakes and floods. This important work is combined with a desire to make structures that are as beautiful and environmentally sound, as they are functional and cost-effective. 

a geodesic domeA geodesic dome is a structure made of struts that are connected to each other to approximate the shape of a sphere (or part of a sphere). Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, an American inventor, architect, author, engineering, designer, and futurist, patented the geodesic dome in the 1940s and made it popular. Spaceship Earth at EPCOT in Walt Disney World is one famous example of a geodesic dome that is a complete sphere shape, but many other geodesic domes are only part of a sphere, such as climbing domes at playgrounds and some greenhouses.

Typically, the struts of a geodesic dome are joined together in triangles, with the points of the triangles being approximately on the sphere’s surface. In this activity, a geodesic dome design is used where all of the struts are the same length, which is known as a V1 design. Other designs have struts of different lengths, and this allows more triangles to cover over the same area of the dome. Typically, the more differences in strut lengths, the more triangles there are, and the rounder the shape of the dome is. In addition to adding more weight-bearing capacity, the added capacity also increases the stability of the dome.

Materials and Equipment 

  • Sheets of newspaper (44)
  • Measuring tape, metric
  • Masking tape or painter’s tape (1 roll)
  • Scissors
  • Markers (2 different colors)
  • Optional: Glitter, beads, and glue for decorating.
  • Kitchen or bathroom scale. 
  • Many magazines

Making the Geodesic Dome

  1. Stack two flat sheets of newspaper together. Starting on the top (long) edge, roll the sheets up together as tightly as you can to form a tube. When you reach the bottom edge, tape the tube to keep it from unrolling. The tube should be about 58 centimeters (cm) long, or the length of the newspaper sheets, and look similar to the one in Figure 1, below. Note: Newspaper sheets can vary in size. Your tube does not need to be exactly 58 cm long to work for this science project; as long as the tube is at least 54 cm long, you can use the newspaper sheets in this science project.

    geodesic dome figure 1
    Figure 1. Make a tube of newspaper by rolling two sheets together, from top to bottom, and taping them in place.
  2. Repeat step 1 until you have 22 tubes.

    geodesic dome figure 2
    Figure 2. Make 22 tubes total as described in step 1.
  3. Now cut down the tubes to make 35 “longs” and 30 “shorts.” You should end up with a pile of newspaper tubes like the one shown in Figure 5, below. Be careful when using the scissors to cut the tubes. 
    1. Longs: Cut 12 tubes into three smaller tubes, where each smaller tube is 18 cm long, as shown in Figure 3, below. Add extra tape to the tubes if needed to keep them rolled up tightly. You should end up with 36 long tubes that are each 18 cm long (you only need 35 long tubes so you will have one extra). i.Use a marker to color all of the cut tubes in some visible way, such as by making a colored mark at each end, so you can tell them apart from the short tubes.
      1. Decorate the tubes if you like.
      2. Note: If your original newspaper tubes are less than 54 cm long, you could use one tube to make only one or two long tubes. (One long tube is 18 cm long and two long tubes are 36 cm long total.)

        Hands-on Engineering Challenge: Create a Dome
        Figure 3. To make the long tubes, cut the newspaper tube into three smaller tubes that are 18 cm long each.
    2. Shorts: Cut 10 tubes into three smaller tubes, where each smaller tube is 16 cm long, as shown in Figure 4. Add extra tape to the tubes if needed to keep them rolled up tightly. You should end up with 30 short tubes that are each 16 cm long. 
      1.     Use a marker to color all of these tubes in some visible way that is different from the long tubes, such as by making a different colored mark at each end.
      2.     Decorate the tubes if you like.
      3.     Note: If your original newspaper tubes are less than 48 cm long, you could use one tube to make only one or two long tubes. (One short tube is 16 cm long and two short tubes are 32 cm long total.)
        geodesic dome figure 4
        Figure 4. To make the short tubes, cut the newspaper tube into three smaller tubes that are 16 cm long each.

        figure 5 geodesic dome
        Figure 5. You should end up with 35 long tubes (left) and 30 short tubes (right).
  4. Tape 10 longs together to make the base of the dome, as shown in Figure 6.

    Figure 6 geodesicdome
    Figure 6. Tape together 10 long tubes to make a base like this one.
  5. Tape a long and a short to each joint. Arrange them so that there are two longs next to each other, followed by two shorts, and so on, as shown in Figures 7 and 8.
    figure 7 geodesic dome
    Figure 7. On the base you just made, attach a long (dark-colored here) and a short (light-colored here) to each joint, arranging it so that two longs are next to each other, then two shorts, etc.

    Figure 8 geodesicdome
    Figure 8. Tape a long and a short tube to each joint, placing two longs next to each other, then two shorts, etc.
  6. Tape the tops of two adjacent shorts together to make a triangle. Tape the next two longs together, and so on, all the way around, as shown in Figure 9.

    Figure 9 geodesicdome
    Figure 9. Tape the tops of two nearby long tubes together, then the next two short tubes, etc., until you have taped all of the pairs together, making a series of triangles.
  7.  Connect the tops of these new triangles with a row of shorts, as shown in Figure 10. The dome will start curving inward. As you continue to add to the dome, you may want to add additional tape to reinforce the joints.

    Figure 10 geodesicdome
    Figure 10. Connect the tops of the triangles with long tubes (10 total).
  8.  At each joint where four shorts come together, tape another short sticking straight up. Connect this short to the joints on either side with longs, forming new triangles, as shown in Figure 11.

    Figure 11 geodesicdome
    Figure 11. Where four short tubes come together, tape on another short tube, pointing up, and then stabilize it with a long tube taped to a joint on either side of it.
  9. Connect the tops of these new triangles with a row of longs, as shown in Figure 12.

    Figure 12 geodesic dome
    Figure 12. Connect the triangles with long tubes (5 total).
  10. Finally, add the last five shorts so that they meet at a single point in the center of the dome, as shown in Figure 13. Your geodesic dome is now complete! Feel free to add additional tape to joints where more support is needed.

    Figure 13--geodesicdome
    Figure 13. Fill in the empty pentagon (five-sided shape) space at the top with five short tubes, meeting at a point in the middle.

Testing the Geodesic Dome

  1. Weigh your geodesic dome on the scale. Record its mass (in grams [g])  ________________. 
    1. To weigh the dome, place a large tray on the scale, zero out the scale, and then place the dome on the tray. 
    2. Alternatively, you could place a small, open cardboard box on the scale, zero out the scale, and then place the dome upside down with its top in the box.

      Figure 14 Geodesicdome
      Figure 14. Test how strong your dome is by adding magazines, one at a time, on the top of it and seeing how many magazines it can support.
  2. Test how strong your dome is by seeing how many magazines you can load on top. Add magazines, one at a time, on the top of the dome, as shown in Figure 14. Observe the dome carefully for signs of impending failure. How many magazines did your dome hold before failing ___________.
  3.             Weigh the stack of magazines that your dome could support. Record the mass (in g) _________.
  4.             What is the strength-to-weight ratio of the dome? In other words, how much mass can the dome support compared to the mass of the dome itself? To calculate this divide the weight of the magazines by the weight of the dome. This should give you an X to 1 ratio. 
  5.             Did the results surprise you? Why or why not?
  6.             Where/ how did your dome fail? Was it at a joint or on one of the tubes? 
  7.             What do you think you could have changed to make it stronger?  Would different materials or a different method of fastening the parts together make the dome stronger?

Source: Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). Dome Sweet Dome. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/CE_p008/civil-engineering/build-a-dome

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