Tensile Strength Experiment: Find the Strongest Spider Web!


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One of my favorite classes in college was materials science. Materials science is the study of how materials act and why they act that way. Materials Engineers answer questions like “How can I make a jacket that is bullet-proof?” (answer Kevlar, what bullet proof vests are made of), or “I need a light weight, breathable, rainproof jacket” (answer Gore-Tex). My husband had already introduced my son to materials engineering while fixing his remote control car, but I wanted to extend his knowledge a little more. After using physics to rock paint spiders, I had an idea to use the spiders to teach my son about a specific materials science concept; ultimate tensile strength. The ultimate tensile strength of a material is the maximum amount of stress a material can stand before breaking. Think of it this way: Ultimate tensile strength is the maximum force a string can stand before breaking while being pulled in opposite directions. My idea was to explore ultimate tensile strength while finding the strongest spider web material!

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities

Using Spider Webs to Experiment with Tensile Strength!

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Finding the BEST spider web material!

To find the best spider web material, we need to figure out the web material that would hold the greatest amount of spiders. The material that held the great amount of spiders would have the greatest ultimate tensile strength! We decided to try out three materials:

  1. Acrylic yarn
  2. Uncooked spaghetti
  3. Decorative Spider webs

Tensile Strength Experiment

Step 1: Make your spider web with Acrylic Yarn.  Tie the end of the yarn to a knob on a  knitting hat loom. Weave the yarn on the loom, and mark each knob as you wind yarn around them. You will need to repeat the pattern you create for other materials. When you are finished creating the spider web, cut off the yarn and knot the end to the last knob.

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities





Step 2: Place two chairs about 6 inches apart. Suspend the finished spider web by placing an edge of the loom on each chair seat. I also set a pillow under our spider web to soften the blow in-case a spider fell through the web.

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities

Step 3: Slowly add spiders to the web until the web breaks!

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities

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Step 4: Make your spider web with Uncooked Spaghetti. Following the pattern created in Step 1, create the same web pattern using uncooked spaghetti. As you place a piece of spaghetti down, carefully tape each end to the loom.

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities

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Step 5: Repeat steps 2 and 3.

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities

Step 6: Make your spider web with Decorative Spider webs. Cut off about 12 inches, and pull the material apart. Drape the material over the knitting loom, making sure to poke the loom knobs through the spider webbing to make it secure.

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities





Step 7: Repeat steps 2 and 3.

Tensile Strength for Kids | Explore Ultimate Tensile Strength by find the best Spider Web! | Materials Science Activities

Tensile Strength Results

Material 1: Acrylic Yarn

We were sure our spiders would break this web, but as we kept adding spiders, the yarn stretched instead of breaking! From our result, we learned that the tensile strength of the yarn was bigger than the weight of all our spiders combined!

Material 2: Uncooked Spaghetti

Our spaghetti spider web broke with only two spiders. Our result taught us that the tensile strength of the spaghetti was lower than the weight of just one rock!

Material 3: Decorative Spider Web

We were certain the spiders would fall through the decorative spider web. Instead, though, the web stretched and stretched, while continuing to coddle the spider.  Once we added a second rock, though, both rocks broke through the web. Our results taught us that the spider web’s tensile strength much smaller than the yarn’s, but about the same as the spaghetti!

Try this experiment at home, and let me know if you get the same results! Can you think of any other material you could use to make a spider web?

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