Pumpkin Chunkin in Bethel Park teaches physics

Published Nov 13, 2013 at 6:49 am (Updated Nov 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm)

Sometimes, learning can be fun – even in honors physics classes at Bethel Park High School.

On Nov. 6, Randi Durmis and Erika Tkach’s honors physics students tried out their custom designed and built sling shots, catapults, trebuchets and launchers to hurl pumpkins on the Bob Purkey Jr. Memorial Field, adjacent to the high school off Church Road.

The students in grades 10 through 12 designed the various hurling units as part of the physics curriculum.

“It was any type of simple machine with no fossil fuels,” said Tkach before the competition began. “It’s simple physics.”

Some of the large sling shots, launchers and catapults resulted in a small launch, covering only a few feet before crashing to the ground. Then the largest of the group, a trebuchet, elicited a loud response when the pumpkin flew 62 meters (204 feet) before bouncing. One possible explanation for the expert launch was the counterweight of 240 pounds.

Others were less successful, flying just a few feet from the launch site. One fell backwards. Another failed to leave the sling, spinning around before falling almost straight down.

There was a four-pound limit to the pumpkin, Durmis said. One group could not find a suitable pumpkin, so a watermelon was used.

“It was painted to look like a pumpkin,” Tkach said.

One of the pumpkins was covered in purple duct tape, while another was altered to resemble a large-nose reindeer.

Once the pumpkin or facsimile was launched, Durmis used a wheel measuring tape to calculate the distance the pumpkin flew, and that was combined with other statistics such as how long the pumpkin was in the air and how far it rolled.

One team of all girls said they were unable to use power tools to build the launcher, so the equipment was held together with purple duct tape.

Dumis said the experiment was part of the projectile motion unit and that the students had worked on the designs and construction for the past three weeks. Tkach said the students picked their own teams to work on the project.

Once the experiment is complete, Dumis said the students will take the often large wooden structures home and disassemble them.

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