Build your own pasta car
Discovery Place Science
In this activity, engineers of all ages will become familiar with the design process as they create their own pasta car. Using their knowledge of design, they will create a vehicle completely made up of food – primarily pasta – then test their design as they send it down a ramp, keeping track of how far it travels.
Grab your glue gun, pasta, tape measure and start your engines!
This activity includes about 15 minutes of preparation and approximately 30 minutes of learning time. It is best suited for children in elementary school grades.
- Pasta such as spaghetti, rotelle, rigatoni, penne, lasagna, elbows
- Lifesavers candies
- Small marshmallows
- Duct tape
- Tape measure
- Cardboard such as cereal boxes
- Hot glue gun
- Build your ramp. Before you begin to design and construct your pasta vehicle, you first need to put together your ramp. Find a location in your home that is well suited for the ramp with ample space around it for your car to move after successfully making it down. Be sure to tape down the end of your ramp once you’ve located the perfect spot.
- Identify the goal. Remember, your goal is not just to make it down the ramp but also to travel the furthest. What specific design aspects can help you succeed at this goal?
- Brainstorm. Looking at the various materials you’ve compiled, what type of food would act as the best wheel? Consider the weight of the pasta you choose as this will determine the rolling resistance (caused when your tires are squished on the road or, in this case, ramp) of your car. What would happen if your car was too heavy? Brainstorm solutions to reduce drag, the total amount of friction that occurs as the wheels meet the ramp, slowing it down.
- Draw it out. Draw a model of your car making a point to list out the parts of your car. Some important features include the wheels, axle, base (or chassis), roof and hubcaps.
- Make it. Build your car, utilizing your design model as a reference.
- Test and improve. Set your car at the top of the ramp, and let gravity do the work. Gravity is the force that attracts two objects towards one another. The bigger the object, the larger the gravitational pull. If your car doesn’t go down the ramp, resist the urge to assist your car down. Take a closer look at your car and make changes to the design until it can successfully roll down the ramp by gravity alone. Tweak and tinker with your design until you are happy with the results. It’s important to remember that your car needs to be heavy enough to make it down the ramp unassisted, yet fast enough to coast the furthest.
- Race. Now that your car has been built and you know that it will successfully travel down the ramp, it’s time to race! You can challenge a sibling or race against your best time.
How to adjust for younger and older learners
For younger learners, focus on potential vs. kinetic energy. Potential energy is the energy that an object possesses relative to the objects around it. Kinetic energy is the energy that an object possesses while moving. Have your young engineer identify the parts of the ramp where both potential energy and kinetic energy would occur on the ramp. Want more on different types of energy? Check out this Energy Talk with Leah.
For older learners, encourage them to build a second car that is faster than their first. How can you alter your design to make it more aerodynamic (the interaction between the air and the object moving through it)?