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The physics of flying squash

Students apply what they learn in science class into catapulting pumpkins

Students participated in a unique event at Shaker High School on Friday, Oct. 28 and Monday, Oct. 31, where they launched pumpkins into the air and competed for who could launch theirs the furthest. Students were not given any specifics of what type of launcher to build except that the pumpkin had to travel more than five meters.

Students participated in a unique event at Shaker High School on Friday, Oct. 28 and Monday, Oct. 31, where they launched pumpkins into the air and competed for who could launch theirs the furthest. Students were not given any specifics of what type of launcher to build except that the pumpkin had to travel more than five meters. Photo by Andrew Beam.

— There are three different kinds of launchers that are built for the competition: catapults, slingshots and trebuchets. Last year, a student launched a pumpkin from the starting point, which was a grassy field directly behind the school, over a fence and hit the football goalpost.

“A trebuchet, if it’s built right, goes much further, but it is a very difficult launcher to build and requires a lot of counterweight,” Rossi said. “So there are some limitations from that, which can prevent a kid from building a trebuchet.”

Groups were awarded points for decorating their pumpkin. Many of the students decked their pumpkins out with spiders and spider webs and one was dedicated to breast cancer awareness month. Nolett said the minimum distance a pumpkin must travel is five meters forward, or the team is penalized. If a group goes over 15 meters, they get bonus points.

The students launched their pumpkins on Friday, Oct. 28, and Monday, Oct. 31.

Principal Richard Murphy said the school takes a lot of pride in the physics program and wants to make science more relatable and interesting to kids. He said when both Nolett and Rossi came up with idea for the pumpkin launch the school was right on board.

“It just made all the sense in the world because it is an academic problem and kids are graded on it like everything else,” he said. “Learning doesn’t have to just have to happen in the classroom. It’s a nice timely event with the season and I hope it inspires kids to take physics a little more seriously as a possible career… It’s great for kids to see concepts of physics incorporated out here.”

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