Engineering design challenge: Paper shelf

Engineers and geoscientists work to protect the public, and that includes building structures and making sure that they are safe for us to use. Civil engineers design and inspect the structural drawings to see if they will be able to hold certain amounts of weight and stand up to extreme weather events. Engineers have “shake tables” that they can use to model what will happen to a building during an earthquake. Geoscientists play a role in making sure that the ground is safe to build on.


Create a structure out of only paper and tape that can hold 3 cans of soup (hint: try rolling the paper into tubes) and make sure it can stand up to wind and unstable surfaces.


Instruct participants to use objects they can find around the house to build their project (some examples are below).

We recommend that participants test out their structure by seeing what happens when they put it in front of a fan, or a door moving back and forth quickly to create a breeze. They can place it on a table and shake the table to create their own earthquake simulator.

Example materials

Instruct participants to use these or any other types of paper and tape they find around their house to work with:

  • Newspaper
  • Scotch tape
  • Duct tape
  • Cardboard
  • Tissue paper
  • Construction paper
  • Washi tape