Strong Sand

Discover the strength of sand in this simple experiment.

Grains of sand are miniature particles that flow through your fingertips with ease. Put them all together, however, and you'll see that these tiny particles are really quite powerful! Just take the “Strong Sand” challenge and you’ll discover an amazing fact about the science of sand.

Experiment Materials

  • Cardboard tube from a roll of paper towel
  • Sand (salt can be used in place of sand)
  • Sheet of tissue paper
  • Rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Stick - dowel rod approximately 1 foot in length or a drumstick works well

Experiment

  1. Cut a piece of tissue so that it measures approximately 8 inches square.
  2. Cover one end of the cardboard tube with the tissue paper and hold it in place tightly with a rubber band.
  3. Challenge someone to poke a hole in the piece of tissue paper using the stick. Hey, that’s easy! Don’t worry… let’s try it again.
  4. Replace the torn paper with a new piece of tissue paper. Fill the cardboard tube three quarters of the way full with sand. This makes for even a better challenge in the minds of many people because not only will the paper break but the sand will spill out everywhere!
  5. Instruct your volunteer to push the stick into the sand and keep pushing until the stick breaks through the tissue paper. What’s the matter? This time it’s not so easy to break through the paper. In fact, it’s impossible! How did the tissue paper get to be so strong?

How Does It Work?

The secret is literally in the sand. As you push the stick into the sand, the granules of sand are pushed away from the stick in all directions. Contrary to what seems logical, the sand pushes against the sides of the cardboard tube instead of the entire force pushing downward against the tissue paper.