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Tall paper tower?

  1. Dec 15, 2004 #1
    I'm not sure if this would go more into the engineering section, but I think physics concepts would help out more. I might be wrong, if so, please move this thread.

    We have an extra day in Physics Lab and we're going to do a one-period long project -- We're going to be given a base, a normal sheet of 8x11 paper, and an unknown amount of tape. We're supposed to build the highest tower made out of paper possible to stand on its own.

    I've racked my brain on possible solutions to the problem to no avail. I remember when I was a kid I would take the hole-punched edges of old-school computer paper feed, tear them off of the paper, and fold the strips together perpendicularly onto each other to make a sort of spring of paper. It's hard to explain what it is without a visual diagram, but nevertheless, it was very flimsy and wouldnt' be able to stand without a type of support, so I dont' think I could use this idea. My physics lab teacher says the record is 1.5 meters.

    Any ideas would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2004 #2


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    Roll the paper into long thin tubes. These are your "beams". Build up a tower as best you can out of these structural elements. Use mechanical principles to try and lattice/brace the tower together, much like a real one made out of steel beams.
  4. Dec 15, 2004 #3


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    do you have a limit on the number of pieces of paper you get?

    if you don't, do like pervect said, long thin tubes are the best. The longer they get though, make sure they still seem thick 'enough', but not thick.
  5. Dec 16, 2004 #4
    We only get one piece of 8x11 paper.
  6. Dec 16, 2004 #5


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    but with one peice of paper, th tower will be 99% tape (!)?

    i was thinking of make large rods of tape by simple taping large amounts of tape together, make 3, and make a sort of teepee ish thing? maybe? but that doesnt use any paper... are there any previous examples of this?
  7. Dec 16, 2004 #6
    We only get a predetermined amount of tape, it might only be a foot, or less. It's probably just flimsy scotch tape, though I don't know for sure; plus I don't think the tape can be used as anything else other than holding paper together, that is, it can't be used to extend the length of the tower.
  8. Dec 16, 2004 #7
    I don't know if this will work, but our psyc teacher tought he was really smart when he gave us this assignment.

    It was basiclly the same, only we used paper clips and straws. We had to build the tallest "thing" we could. Everyone naturally assumed that we had to go from the ground up, but he "revield" to us after that the best way would've been hanging it from the lights in the room (which i thought was retareded).

    Maybe your instructor has made some specific statements to rule this one out, or maybe not.


    P.S. my High School psyc teacher was a jerk.
  9. Dec 16, 2004 #8
    This isn't an easy problem...you'd probably need to take a class in advanced strength of materials and study buckling phenomena, to even get a start on coming up with an analytical solution. But here's a suggestion...give the sections of tower a slight taper, so the completed tower will have a very slight cone shape.
  10. Dec 17, 2004 #9
    You could start by saying this:
    8.5 inches is eas to build.
    11 inches is easy to build.
    Anything further would have to involve a hypotenuse length.

    That is...unless you can cut it, which assuming you can. you ca create soem pretty cool structures. My strategy would be to cut some tiny, tiny long (about 9 inches) strips off the paper, then use them on top of a long cylinder. Then, cut tiny tiny tiny little strips off those...like the width of a quarter. Use these as ropes. I made one in my basement now about 21" high. I had the paper standing the long way, with strips cut out, forming a tripod on top and then an arch on top of that.
  11. Dec 17, 2004 #10
    have a tall tower of thin tubes with 3 paper stabilising "wires". the wires could join up say 3/4 up the top of the tube. This is provided you are able to tape the wires to the ground or else it wouldn't work.

    dont know what you're paper size is but in australia we use a4 which is 210 x 297mm so i'll use that.
    to get close to 1.5m you could have 3 guy wires made of 5 strips each 3mm wide, using up 3 * 5 * 3 = 45mm of you're paper width, although this requires lots of careful cutting. then the remainder of the paper could be used to make 6 thin tubes, for the main part of you're tower, i think this would also need to be taped to the ground to stop it sliding. using my 210mm wide paper i get (210 - 45) / 6 = 2.75 cm wide bit of paper to roll for each part of the tube... i think thats possible if you find a thin pencil to wrap it around...

    it could work i think...

    edit: I was bored, so I tried it, and it did work... just don't breathe :) .
    using my i think slightly bigger??? bit of a4 paper mines standing 158 cm high, but the paper for the tube is so much on the verge of kinking that were say, slightly thinner paper was used, i dont think it would work well, i'm using normal 80gsm paper btw... then again i was in a rush, did it in about 15 mins so if more care was taken it would probably work better.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2004
  12. Dec 17, 2004 #11
    Thank you for all of your replies.

    To recap, we get one 8x11 inch piece of paper. We can cut it, do anything to it. We also get 40 cm of 1/2 inch wide masking tape. We can't hang the tower from a ceiling or use a wall to support it or anything like that, it has to be free standing. The base can only be used as a base.

    The idea of using 'wires' to support the towers makes sense, I think I'll experiment with this at home on my own before it's time to build the real thing.

    My computer science teacher showed me a solution that might work also:

    Cut the paper into long strips about a little more than 1/4 inch wide, and bend them in half the long way. Cut notches in each end so that they can slit into each other, forming a diamond type 'connection'. I figure use this for the main part of the tower, and also use whatever works for support wires. In this case, the strips making up the main tower are so thin, we could possibly have two main columns of these strips of paper, adding strength -- then cut diagonal supports and run them between each other.

    Also, an update on the record, it is not 1.5m, but 1.8m.
  13. May 16, 2006 #12
    I have to do this lab tomorrow in class...ugh...Mine stood at about 40"...It needs to be at least 24" in order to get credit...Besides from the above ideas...Anyone else?
  14. May 16, 2006 #13


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    You could also cut the paper into strips about 1.5cm (5/16") wide and fold them into triangular rather than cylindrical beams. I just gave it a try making one here at work, and that's about the narrowest that I could work with. The effect would be similar to the V-shaped ones that your CS teacher suggested, but a quite a bit stronger. From 3 to 5 small pieces of tape evenly spaced along them would hold their shape. I'd work from the top down and keep it as slender as possible for maximum height. An 'Eiffel Tower' sort of structure should work. The notch connections could still be applied, and sounds like a pretty good idea.

    PS: If not specifically forbidden in the rules (and you didn't mention it), you might want to think about getting a blow-drier and ducting some hot air inside the thing to help hold it up. :devil:
    Last edited: May 16, 2006
  15. May 17, 2006 #14


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    Yes!! This is what I did last time I was presented with the activity. We had one sheet of paper and tape I just taped the base down well so it wouldn't tip, after cutting strips with the widest at the bottom that are folded length-wise and lean on each other. I won :biggrin:
  16. May 17, 2006 #15


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    Most of the tower stuff I've seen was done using a tripod base and a tall single tower. Since the tower didn't have to be wind proof, just stand up, it didn't take a lot. One of the challenges invovled being able to survive a slight tilting, but this challenge was using tinker toys and wasn't difficult to do, a flat 3 strut base and a vertical pole.

    Assuming you can also cut the masking tape, maybe a very thin spiral or other pattern of tape would help support the tower.
    Last edited: May 17, 2006
  17. May 17, 2006 #16


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    Has your teacher specified what kind of paper you get? Otherwise, you'd be best served by tracking down the stiffest heaviest paper you can find (card stock is probably cheating, but would work better).

    A relatively easy approach would be to bend the paper into V-channels (like your CS teacher suggested, and then cutting two slots parralel to the long dimension of the paper so that you can do an over-under kind of interface.

    Another potentially good choice would be z-channels

    You could reinforce the joints with masking tape, if necessary, but your big problem is going to be rigidity.

    If you really want to push things, you'll want to make your pieces of paper narrower as you go up, and use masking tape to tie together the open side s of the larger v channels.
  18. May 17, 2006 #17
    I definitely agree with Danger here. My group held the record in our class and we used triangular beams. The only difficult thing about this is the base, since you need to conserve as much paper as possible.
  19. Nov 3, 2009 #18
    im in highschool were doing this same thingb with 10cm of scoth tsape freestanding all that stuff highest so far about 1 .2 meters
  20. Nov 3, 2009 #19
    if you're allowed unlimited tape, cut the paper into thin strips, wrap each strip with tape a few times to add stability, and then go cube base, then a pyramid on top, then a series of pyramids on top of that pyramid each with progressively smaller bases.
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