Did you ever notice all the zigzagging steel in a bridge or a tall communication tower? Just check out the Eiffel Tower. All those diagonal pieces are not just for decoration. They are called bracing, and if it wasn't for all that bracing, those bridges and towers wouldn't exist. They likely would've just toppled over during construction.
So how does bracing help keep these structures standing? Well, bracing essentially ties all of the corners of a structure together so they can't move. Doing this creates a rigid structure capable of spanning long lengths or rising high into the sky.
What makes bracing so special? Why does it work? Well, the technical answer is two forces called tension and compression. These are forces that are applied in the direction of the bracing. Tension force is created when the ends of a brace are pulled away from each other while compression force is created when the ends are pushed toward each other.
If you look at a piece of spaghetti you will notice that it's very hard. It seems like it would be really strong, right? Well it depends on what you want to do with it. Obviously if you bend a piece of spaghetti it will break very easily. But if you push or pull on each end then it's actually really strong. Of course you wouldn't be able to push on the ends very much before the spaghetti would bend and break. But, if we could prevent that piece of spaghetti from bending then it would actually be able to support a lot of compression force.
So how can we keep the spaghetti straight? By adding bracing! If we were to create a simple spaghetti box without any bracing (Image 1) it wouldn't be very strong because it would just tip over as soon as we added any weight to it (Image 2).
Image 1 - Simple spaghetti box without bracing.
Image 2 - This spaghetti box would just fall over because the corners are not locked together.
So we need to find a way to prevent the box from tipping over. The best way to do this is by adding additional spaghetti between opposite corners of the box (Image 3). This is called bracing. This bracing will lock the two corners together preventing them from moving relative to each other. By doing this we are making the box rigid, or strong (Image 4).
Image 3 - Adding diagonal bracing between opposite corners will lock the corners together and prevent the box from falling over.
Image 4 - This spaghetti box has already gotten a lot stronger just by adding a couple diagonal braces.
The more bracing, the stronger the box. Remember that we said that spaghetti doesn't like to bend? Well, if you push two corners of our box toward each other, the bracing between those corners will bend and eventually break. The best way to prevent this from happening is to add another brace between the adjacent corners (Image 5).
Image 5 - By adding additional bracing between the other corners our spaghetti box is even stronger. Each brace in tension prevents the opposite brace from being compressed.
The reason this helps is because the new brace wants to get stretched while the other brace wants to get pushed together and bend. We know that bending is bad for spaghetti, but stretching is good - really good! When stretched, a force called tension is created. Even cooked spaghetti could hold some weight in tension. Because tension is applied to the new brace it prevents compression from occurring in the other brace - no compression, no bending! This is why you will often see bracing applied in opposite directions on so many structures.
Here are a couple close ups showing how to use PasTEX Connectorz to add spaghetti bracing to your models. We just used two Connectorz at each corner - one for the basic shape of the box and the other to connect our diagonal bracing. Grouping Connectorz together like this is a great way to create very strong connections in your spaghetti models.
Image 6 - Stack PasTEX Connectorz to add bracing to your spaghetti models.
So now that you know why bracing is so important and how to add it to your own spaghetti models, give it a try. See if you can make your models even longer, even taller, even stronger, and even cooler than ever before. Get your STEM on!
-The PasTEX Team