3M Science at Home: marshmallow tower experiment

Marshmallow Tower

How tall can you build a structure using only marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti?

Key Concepts

  • engineering gears icon
  • structural design icon
    Structural Design

  • Introduction

    Have you ever wondered how skyscrapers can be so tall? Or how people build bridges to span long distances? We use engineering to come up with ways to build tall, long, and sturdy structures.

  • Background

    The first building that was considered a skyscraper was the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, Illinois. It was built in 1885, and stood until 1931. It was considered a skyscraper because it was the first building to use steel and concrete as its foundation and structure. However, people have been building tall towers since 300 BCE! The lighthouse of Alexandria was about 330 feet tall and stood from 280 BCE until 1480 CE. In this activity, you won’t have to create something that big, but if you want to look at how those structures were designed, they might inspire your creation using only marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti.

  • Preparation

    • Make sure you have a clean workspace, and open up the spaghetti and the marshmallows. 
    • Your goal is to create a marshmallow and spaghetti tower that is at least 6 inches tall from base to top. Take a moment to think about what the best way to do this will be. What will help the tower be sturdy? What will help it be stable?  
  • Preparation

    • Use the marshmallows as joints, and the spaghetti as beams, and try to build the tallest tower that you can. Use your ruler to measure how tall you are building.
  • Observations and Results

    • What happens when you use a square base vs. a triangle base?
    • What happens as the tower gets taller?
    • What happens when you use shorter spaghetti?
    • What are some of the ways you could strengthening your tower using other materials?

    You will probably find that the most effective towers have wide, sturdy bases, use shorter pieces of pasta, and use triangles and pyramids as support structures. Triangles are a great structure to make, because they are the only shape where you cannot change the angles that the sides make without changing the length of the sides. This makes them very sturdy and able to support things well. Having a wide base gives the tower lots of stability and allows for better weight distribution.

    Try adding a challenge for yourself by creating your tower for a specific purpose.  Can you make a tower that holds an egg 6 inches off the table? How about a book? How tall can you make a tower using only unbroken pieces of spaghetti? Keep experimenting with different ways to build. 

    Make sure to clean up when you are done. Compost or throw away the marshmallows and pasta, and clean up your workspace. 

  • Safety First & Adult Supervision

    • Follow the experiment’s instructions carefully.
    • A responsible adult should assist with each experiment.
    • While science experiments at home are exciting ways to learn about science hands-on, please note that some may require participants to take extra safety precautions and/or make a mess.
    • Adults should handle or assist with potentially harmful materials or sharp objects.
    • Adult should review each experiment and determine what the appropriate age is for the student’s participation in each activity before conducting any experiment.

Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) Supported - Disciplinary Core Ideas

This experiment was selected for Science at Home because it teaches NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas, which have broad importance within or across multiple science or engineering disciplines.

Learn more about how this experiment is based in NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas.

Engineering Design (ETS)1: Engineering Design

Grades K-2

  • K-2-ETS1-1. A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved though engineering. Such problems may have many acceptable solutions.
  • K-2-ETS1-1. Asking questions, making observations, and gathering information are helpful in thinking about problems.
  • K-2-ETS1-1. Before beginning to design a solution, it is important to clearly understand the problem.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-5-ETS1-1. Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solution can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-ETS1-1. The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Grades 9-12

  • HS-ETS1-1. Criteria and constraints also include satisfying any requirements set by society, such as taking issues of risk mitigation into account, and they should be qualified to the extent possible and stated in such a sway that one can tell if a given design meets them.

Grades K-2

  • K-2-ETS1-2. Designs can be conveyed through sketches, drawings, or physical models. These representations are useful in communicating ideas for a problem’s solutions to other people.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-5-ETS1-2. Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3. Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2. At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-ETS1-4.
  • A solution needs to be tested, and then modified o the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.
  • MS-ETS1-2. There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet criteria and address constraints of a problem.
  • MS-ETS1-3. Sometimes parts of different solutions can be combined to create a solution that is better than any of its predecessors.
  • MS-ETS1-4. Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions.

Grades 9-12

  • HS-ETS1-3. When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
  • HS-ETS1-4. Both physical models and computers can be used in various ways to aid in the engineering design process. Computers are useful for a variety of purposes, such as running simulations to test different ways of solving a problem or to see which one is most efficient or economical; and in making a persuasive presentation to a client about how a given design will meet his or her needs.

Grades K-2

  • K-2-ETS1-3. Because there is always more than one possible solution to a problem, it is useful to compare and test designs.

Grades 3-5

  • 3-5-ETS1-3. Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and the constraints.

Grades 6-8

  • MS-ETS1-3. Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process – that is, some of the characteristics may be incorporated into the new design.
  • MS-ETS1-4. The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution.

Grades 9-12

  • HS-ETS1-2. Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others may be needed.