Here's some fun exciting science facts and ideas for people who have seen – or are going to see – the Stronger by Design show.

Stronger by Design

Types of Bridges

Beam: A beam bridge is the simplest type of bridge. They may be solid or hollow but the further away you get from the supports, the weaker the beam bridge gets. The first beam bridge may have beam as simple as a fallen log across a stream. Do you think you could make your own beam bridge?

 Morden bridge

Morden Bridge, South London 1933

Suspension: Suspension bridges can span further than any other type of bridge! The huge towers allow the cables, made of bundles of thousands of steel wires, to be stretched over long distances where they are securely anchored at either end of the bridge. They are incredibly strong as each wire only 2.5mm thick can support 0.5 tons - that’s about the weight of 40 adult men!

 Clifton suspension bridge
Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, late 20th century.

Arch: Arches have been around for thousands of years and were even used by the Romans! If you were to stand on an arch bridge, your weight would push down on the keystone (the top stone) and the force caused by your weight would cause each stone of the bridge to push down onto the stone next to it. Like this the force can be spread along the arch until it reaches the foundations of the bridge which push back to support your weight.


Arthington Viaduct, near Leeds, West Yorkshire, 2007

This idea of spreading the force is the reason why eggs are so strong. If you don’t believe us, try squeezing the points of an egg for yourself - but make sure you ask your adults first!

Brunel Factfile

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859
Place of Birth:
Portsmouth, Hampshire
Profession: Civil Engineer
Claims to fame:
• Clifton Suspension Bridge which connects Bristol to North Somerset.
• Construction of the first major British railway ‘Great Western Railway’. In some stations you can still see many fittings such as seats and signs with ‘GWR’ on them, still showing their Great Western Railway heritage.
• Designed the world’s first iron ship the ‘Great Britain’
• Brunel designed many other ships including the ‘Great Western’ and the ‘Great Eastern’ which can be found in the Shipping gallery at the Science Museum.

Meet our drama character Isambard Kingdom Brunel and more even more information check out this short biography.

Chair of Nails

The most comfortable chair in the world? Perhaps not but beds of nails have been used for millennia by Indian Yogis. Known as a Shakti mat, the bed of nails is used in yoga as a tool believed to help heal the body and release emotional, physical and mental blockages. You may have seen beds of nails used in circus tricks but now you know their secret - spread the force!

These Fakir sandals in our collection, were by no means comfortable but using the idea of spreading the force, it is possible to actually wear these sandals!

Pair of fakir's sandals with nails in the soles

Launchpad Links

Have a go at building bridges and arches for yourself in the Launchpad gallery.

Arch bridge
Build a bridge
Catenary arch

Museum Objects

Have a look among our collections at some our impressive examples of civil engineering such as our glass suspension bridge in the Challenge of Materials gallery and our model of the Forth Bridge in Making the Modern World.

Experiments to Try at Home

Have a go at using some of the ideas from the show for yourself with some of our fun experiments and challenges.

• Spaghetti challenge - build a super strong structure out of spaghetti and marshmallows.

• Save our Snacks - build a strong protective package for you favourite snack

• Nail Trick - See the impressive results of using 13 nails and the idea of counterbalancing.

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