Hands-on Activity: Do as the Romans: Construct an Aqueduct!

Contributed by: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

The Pont du Gard, a double high, multi-arched long structure—an ancient aqueduct.
Students do as the Romans and construct aqueducts
copyright
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pont_du_Gard_Oct_2007.jpg

Summary

Students work with specified materials to create aqueduct components that can transport two liters of water across a short distance in their classroom. The design challenge is to create an aqueduct that can supply Aqueductis, a (hypothetical) Roman city, with clean water for private homes, public baths and fountains as well as crop irrigation.

Engineering Connection

Aqueducts are majestic and graceful structures and engineering marvels that survive to this day. Since water is scarce in many parts of the world, and populations continue to grow, civil and agricultural engineers design systems that deliver water, natural gas and other resources from far away to the people who need them. Some factors that engineers consider when designing water transport systems are the cost of the project and whether it will be efficient enough to get the job done without wasting resources.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • New products and systems can be developed to solve problems or to help do things that could not be done without the help of technology. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The development of technology is a human activity and is the result of individual and collective needs and the ability to be creative. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Requirements are the parameters placed on the development of a product or system. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Knowledge gained from other fields of study has a direct effect on the development of technological products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The use of technology affects humans in various ways, including their safety, comfort, choices, and attitudes about technology's development and use. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Economic, political, and cultural issues are influenced by the development and use of technology. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Throughout history, new technologies have resulted from the demands, values, and interests of individuals, businesses, industries, and societies. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Social and cultural priorities and values are reflected in technological devices. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Meeting societal expectations is the driving force behind the acceptance and use of products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Many inventions and innovations have evolved using slow and methodical processes of tests and refinements. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The specialization of function has been at the heart of many technological improvements. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Apply a design process to solve problems in and beyond the laboratory-classroom. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Specify criteria and constraints for the design. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Make two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations of the designed solution. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Test and evaluate the design in relation to pre-established requirements, such as criteria and constraints, and refine as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Transportation vehicles are made up of subsystems, such as structural propulsion, suspension, guidance, control, and support, that must function together for a system to work effectively. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Processes, such as receiving, holding, storing, loading, moving, unloading, delivering, evaluating, marketing, managing, communicating, and using conventions are necessary for the entire transportation system to operate efficiently. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The selection of designs for structures is based on factors such as building laws and codes, style, convenience, cost, climate, and function. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Buildings generally contain a variety of subsystems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Describe and explain parts of a structure, e.g., foundation, flooring, decking, wall, roofing systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and compare examples of transportation systems and devices that operate on or in each of the following: land, air, water, and space. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and describe three subsystems of a transportation vehicle or device, i.e., structural, propulsion, guidance, suspension, control, and support. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?

Learning Objectives

  • History of the Roman Empire.
  • Building techniques that were used by the Romans.
  • Creative design methods.

Materials List

  • thin plastic drop cloth
  • empty 2-liter soda bottle and cap
  • bucket
  • duct tape
  • clear vinyl tubing (3/8" outside diameter)
  • cardboard
  • 2-3 tables
  • chair
  • blocks or books
  • 2 liters water
  • scissors
  • electric drill or screwdriver

Introduction/Motivation

Are you familiar with aqueducts? Aqueducts are one of the wonders of the Roman Empire. These graceful structures are not only majestic, but are engineering marvels that survive to this day to transport water long distances.

(Set the mood for the activity by describing this engineering challenge to the class.) You are the Chief Water Engineer of the Roman Empire. Your challenge is to build an aqueduct that is able to supply the Roman city of Aqueductis with clean water for use in private homes, public baths and fountains, and crop irrigation.

If you succeed, the citizens of Aqueductis will be able drink clean water and bathe and work happily. If you fail, there's no telling what the citizens will do. The best design is the one that uses the fewest materials and delivers water continuously with no spills and little leftover water.

Vocabulary/Definitions

aqueduct: A pipeline specifically built to transport water.

chorobate: A surveying instrument that was used by engineers when building aqueductd. It is used to determine the profile of the land in order to determine where the water needs to flow to reach its destination.

Procedure

Background

Recommended Resources:

Macaulay, David. City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1974.

http://www.crystalinks.com/romeaqueducts.html

http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/vienne/en/aqueduc.htm

Preparation

  • By introducing various ideas and themes from the social studies curriculum on Ancient Rome and incorporatingi this modeling project, this could become a favorite interdisciplinary activity for middle school students.
  • Gather materials and make copies of the worksheets.
  • Drill 3/8" holes in the tops of 2-liter soda bottle caps for the tubing to fit into.
  • Set up the "course" that the water will be transported through. For example, from a table to a bucket on the floor 5 feet away, with an obstacle of books between.

With the Students

  • Set the mood by reading to students the Introduction/Motivation section.
  • Assign the "Roman Aqueduct Manual" as homework reading.
  • Log on to the NOVA website, and give each student time to play "Construct a Roman Aqueduct" in the classroom: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempires/roman/aqueduct.html
  • Describe the challenge to the students and hand out materials.
  • Students must deliver the water from the bottle at point A to the "city" at point C. Neither the sheet plastic or the tubing is self-supporting, therefore the aqueduct must go through the point B, the bottom of the "valley" (the floor).
  • The water flow should go through the plastic tubing from the soda bottle to the bucket on the floor, with lost water represented by unsupported tubing. Water is precious, so any that escapes the system represents a costly mistake in engineering, construction and/or operation.
  • After completion of the challenge, modify the course to make it a little harder. For example, add a line of blocks across the table perpendicular to the flow as a hurdle or low hill that the water must be delivered over.
  • Different elements can be built along an aqueduct such as a covered trench, tunnel, pressurized pipe, wall or arcade.
  • Explain to the students that certain criteria must be met. These include:
  1. A limit on the amount of water lost (dripped). A good place to start would be a cup of water lost maximum (~15% of a full 2-L bottle). This value may be varied, but the idea is to give the students a limit of performance.
  2. A limit on the amount of material available. Keep the materials given to each group consistent. Material (monetary) constraints are very important in engineering.
  3. A time limit for construction. Give students roughly 45 minutes to complete their first iteration.
  4. A time limit on the flow of water. If the water does not flow quickly enough, the citizens may not have a sufficient supply. Set this at 30 seconds initially for the full 2 liters, and vary accordingly.
  5. Further criteria may include: Budget (assigning play money to the groups for material), maximum height drop/gain (though this is likely established by the "terrain"), and ability to move water with sediment (sand) in it.

Attachments

Investigating Questions

  • How did the Roman Empire manage to supply its urban citizens with water?
  • What techniques can be used if mountains and valleys exist between the water source and the city?
  • How is today's water system similar or different from that of the Romans?
  • What are some major constraints for this project? Do you think these existed for the Romans as well?

Assessment

The following rubrics:

References

NGaffney, Dennis. "Secrets of Lost Empires." February 2000. NOVA (a five-part NOVA series). http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempires/roman/aqueduct.html
Simmon, Barbara Brooks and Thomas R. Wellnitz. © 2000. Prentice Hall Science Explorer: Earth's Water by Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall (Portions of the activity from this source; used by permission)

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University