Students launch pumpkins as part of physics project

To be qualified to win, their sky-soaring pumpkins not only had to reach the farthest distance after being launched from self-constructed catapults, they had to go the distance without breaking.

That was the challenge for more than 200 Shaker High School students who catapulted pumpkins Thursday, Oct. 23, in the athletic field behind the high school as part of their physics curriculum.

It did not survive the landing! yelled teacher Christine Nolett, after one student's painted pumpkin crashed and exploded on the ground several feet away from where its launch site. Nolett, and her co-teacher Pam Rossi, said the two have been doing the project for two years now and have incorporated the activity into their teaching of projectile motion to offer students an exciting way to learn about how weight corresponds with distance.

The requirements for the competition are pretty basic. Each pumpkin must be at least 4.4 pounds; students have to create their own catapults; and once the competition is over, students must take their catapults home.

Students were broken up into groups and told to decorate their pumpkins. In the end, how well they do in the competition would be determined by which group has the biggest pumpkin that traveled the farthest distance without breaking. Another prize would be given to the group with the most creatively decorated pumpkin.

Jack Howson, 17, of Latham, participated in the pumpkin launch for his class, and said that the project taught him, "the principles of physics in motion."

In his catapult construction, the pumpkin is placed in a frying pan that is connected to a piece of wood, which is then pulled back by Howson and released, having weights at the bottom of the wood that hold the frying pan propel the pumpkin forward.

Howson's pumpkin was 5 pounds, and went 5.2 meters before breaking on the ground.

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