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Power of the Arch: How much mass can 3 Eggshell Arches can hold

Have you ever seen an arch structure in a building, such as over a doorway or surrounding
large windows? Arches have been used for structural engineering since ancient times. This
experiment tests the strength of a naturally occurring arch shape: the shell of an egg. How much
mass do you think an eggshell can support? The purpose of this experiment was to test the
mass that an eggshells can support. To measure how much mass eggshells can support. This
experiment was made to discover the strength of arches using the questions: how much can
four eggshell arches hold up, and will the weight they can hold up double with twice the number
of eggshells? My hypothesis was that the eggshells will be able to hold up about 2 kg, and yes,
the amount of weight will double with the number of eggshells.


Arches have been used in structural engineering since ancient times. Figure 1, below, shows a
Roman aqueduct (in Pont du Gard, France), built in about 19 B.C. Arches allow passage
through a structure, for example: light through arched windows, or people through arched
doorways, or water passing under arched bridges. The shape of the arch distributes
the compressive forces to the load-bearing piers that support the arch. This in turn eliminates
some tension stresses in the structure.

Figure 1. Pont du Gard, France, a Roman aqueduct built about 19 B.C.

An eggshell is a natural example of an arch. One end of the shell has a larger, rounder arch,
and the other end is narrower and more pointed. It is pretty easy to crack an eggshell if you tap
it against a hard surface. But if you interlock your fingers and try to squeeze an egg lengthwise
to break it, you will find that it can withstand more force than you might expect. (You might want
to wear work gloves for this test, because the eggshell pieces will be sharp if you break the
In this experiment, you will measure the load-bearing capacity of eggshell arches. Before
starting on your experiment, you should do background research on arches. Learn about
different types of arches, and how strength changes with the shape of the arch. You should also
do some background research on eggs to find out what material the shell is made from. After
you have finished your background research, make a prediction about how much mass you
think an eggshell can support. Then do your experiment and find out for yourself!


Materials and Equipment

Raw eggs (at least a dozen)


Pencil or marker

Bowl, for collecting egg contents

Small triangular file. Alternatively, you may be able to find this at your local hardware or
hobby store, most likely as part of a set of small files.

An alternative is to use a rotary motor tool. A basic set with a cut-off disk.

If you use a rotary tool, be sure to wear safety goggles

You may also want to wear a dust mask

Dinner plate or other large, flat surface to place the eggshells on for testing

Weights, e.g.:

One hardcover book, for the first layer

Stack of magazines, to be added one at a time for remaining layers

Kitchen scale to weigh the book and magazines

Lab notebook

Experimental Procedure
1. Use a pencil or marker to mark a line all the way around one of the eggs, dividing the
egg halfway between its two pointed ends, as shown in Figure 2. Use a ruler to
determine the halfway point as you make the line.
a. This line is where the eggshell will be cut. It should approximately be at the egg's
widest point (width-wise, not length-wise).

Figure 2. Draw a line around the middle of the egg, as shown here.
2. Carefully crack the eggshell at the pointy end. Make a small hole and drain the contents
of the egg into a bowl, as shown in Figure 3. (You can use the egg contents for cooking.)
Rinse the empty eggshell out with some water.

Figure 3. Carefully crack the pointed end of the egg and empty the contents.

3. Use a triangular file (or rotary motor tool with a cut-off disk) to score the eggshell on your
marked line, all the way around. Follow your marked line carefully, and be sure not to
hold the empty egg so tightly that it cracks.
a. If doing this by hand, use the triangular file as shown in Figure 4. File it enough
so that you can easily feel and see a dent, as shown in Figure 5.
b. If you are using a rotary tool with a cut-off disk, work with an experienced adult
and be sure to wear safety goggles. You may also want to wear a dust mask. You
will need to work slowly, using just the edge of the cut-off disk.
c. Note: If the egg develops hairline cracks or big chips on the more rounded half,
start over (from step 1) with a fresh egg. There should be no cracks or big chips
weakening your prepared eggshells.

Figure 4. You can use a triangular file to score the eggshell along the marked line.

Figure 5. When the eggshell has been scored using the file, there should be a visible dent on
the eggshell where you made the line.
4. Carefully break or cut the eggshell back to the scored line you created, as shown in
Figure 6. You will want to carefully break off small pieces of the shell, working your way
around. This can be tricky so take your time.
a. Note: It is okay if the edge is a little jagged, but if big chips or hairline cracks
develop that go into the more rounded half of the egg, you will want to start over
(from step 1) with a fresh egg.

Figure 6. If you used a triangular file to score the eggshell, now carefully break the eggshell
back to the scored line. You will want the rounded half of the egg to end at the scored line.
5. Repeat steps 14 two more times so that you have prepared a total of three eggshells.
Make each prepared eggshell be the same height.
6. Place the prepared eggshells on a flat surface, like a dinner plate, with their open end
facing down. The distance between each of the eggshells should be equal (i.e., the
eggshells should form an equilateral triangle), as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Arrange the eggshells so that they are equally spaced from each other on the flat test
surface, with their open ends facing down.
7. Carefully lay a hardcover book on top of the three eggshells, as shown in Figure 8. The
book should be centered over the eggshells, so that the mass will be distributed evenly
among them.

Figure 8. Carefully place a hardcover book centered over the eggshells.

8. One at a time, carefully add magazines, as shown in Figure 9, to see how much mass
the eggshells can support. Stop adding magazines when the eggshells crack and break.

Figure 9. Carefully place magazines, one at a time, on top of the book.

9. Use the kitchen scale to measure the combined mass (in grams [g]) of the book and
magazines that the eggshells supported without breaking. Depending on how much
mass the scale can measure, you may need to weigh the book and magazines
individually. Record your results in your lab notebook.
10. Repeat steps 19 at least two more times so that you have done your experiment using
at least three different sets of eggshells.
11. When you are done with your tests, thoroughly clean any surface the raw eggs
(including the shells) touched because they may carry Salmonella. Also, wash your
hands thoroughly with soap.
12. Calculate the average mass supported, per eggshell, for each set of eggshells.
13. Calculate the overall average mass supported, per eggshell, by calculating the average
for the three sets of eggshells.

14. More advanced students should also calculate the standard deviation to see how much
variability there was in the results.
15. Make a bar graph of your results. On the y-axis (the vertical axis), put the mass (in
grams) that the eggshells supported per eggshell. On the x-axis (the horizontal axis),
you can put either all three eggshell sets (as three separate bars) or the average of the
three sets (as one bar). If you calculated the standard deviation, you include that on your
graph as well.
16. Overall, how much mass could each eggshell usually support? Did you see much
variation between your three different eggshell sets? Are your results surprising to you?