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4 Science Fair Projects That Will Teach Your Kids Mechanical Skills

The science fair is a great opportunity for children to develop passions that will lead to both careers and hobbies. Your child doesn’t have to be a budding geneticist or microbiologist to enjoy the science fair. Mechanical skills, whether an introduction to the trades, a home woodworking hobby, or a budding engineering career are a fun and rewarding topic for the science fair. Here are four great ideas for bringing mechanics to the fair:

Rube Goldberg Machines

This is one of the simplest ways to learn about mechanical principles and one of the most fun, unique options for a science fair project. Rube Goldberg machines are multi-step machines that are designed to complete a task. They are often much more complicated than the task that they are completing, but this is also what makes them a fun science experiment display and a great introduction to mechanical concepts.

A sample Rube Goldberg machine would turn on a light switch. It would start with something like a marble going down a ramp, which pushes into a set of kinetic balls that go back and forth. The last kinetic ball would bump into a fan switch, which would blow an item on a pulley across a clothesline, which would bump another ball into a bowling ball perched on the edge of a precipice. The bowling ball would land on a see-saw and send a smaller ball, like a baseball, sailing in an arc to where it lands on a push-button light switch. Your child’s own machine can be simpler or more complex than the example.

Simple Machines

If the concept of multi-step projects doesn’t impress your child, you can get more into the basics of simple machines. This can be presented in a number of ways, from a display showing simple machines like levers and pulleys and their uses in everyday life to a look at simple screw machines and how they work. This is a topic that can be simple and introductory for younger children or more technical for older participants.

One option for a good, simple topic is to compare different versions of military fasteners, such as screws, and discuss the way that they work. For example, your child could have their project answer the following question: How do the different lengths, materials and threading width impact how they can be used? Your child could also compare the ability to hold certain weights, use the screws inside vs. outside, hold metal vs. wood, and more.

Pinhole Projections

Pinhole cameras and projectors are a fun way to show how reflection and projection work. These systems work by allowing a small amount of light in through a tiny hole, which gets projected upside down on the opposite side, projected the way a movie camera can work. Pinhole cameras can be made from any closed, dark box from a cereal box to a box you make yourself. They are a common project for eclipse viewing.

Pinhole cameras can be paired with mirrors to bounce an image onto any surface through a series of angles. This offers a lot of lessons about the physics concepts of refraction and reflection. These are wonderful, hands-on science fair displays that can be fun for judges and participants alike.

Electric Vegetables

The classic potato clock is a great science experiment. With the advent of LED lighting, which takes a lot less power than an incandescent bulb, you can do a number of fun lighting displays using only the power of vegetables as your source. Compare the electric power of a potato to a turnip, or see how many different kinds of items can be powered by your vegetables. As a bonus, have your child create a powerpoint to stream on a laptop to discuss their findings, and attach the laptop charger to a host of vegetables.

This infamous science fair project is nothing new in concepts, but it is always a fun presentation and it offers a great introductory lesson to circuits, wiring, and the nature of electricity that can help your child to inspire a neighborhood electrician or even the next CEO of Tesla.

The fun part of science fairs is that many of the projects put a new twist on classic concepts. This is just a sample of the ways that you and your kids can learn more about mechanics and present a fun, exciting science fair project.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.

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