Photo provided by Ken Podolak
Randi Bassik, left, and Tobey Betthauser, were among members of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh Physics Club who came together last weekend at the annual Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival in Cambridge, Vt. The SUNY Plattsburgh team took home first place in the competition.
How far can a pumpkin fly? It depends on who’s doing the “chuckin’.”
Students from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh Physics Club came together last weekend for the annual Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival in Cambridge, Vt., putting their understanding of the laws of physics to practical use. Not only did they participate, but the students also set a record at event by launching a pumpkin more than 130 feet, landing them a first place win in their division and earning “an awesome trophy,” said Professor Ken Podolak.
“We competed last year and scored third prize in the middleweight division, which was a nice showing,” said Podolak. “We were very proud of our accomplishment last year.”
This time, however, the group of students — which consisted of some of the same faces from last year’s team — overhauled their previous design and took home the gold.
The process to build the catapult, also known as a trebuchet, took several weeks to design and eventually build, said Podolak. The project challenged the minds of physics and engineering students who were faced with the task of putting theory into practice.
Tobey Betthauser, president of the physics club, agreed. While he was proud of his team taking home the gold, he added the process of learning from trial and error for the project was rewarding in itself.
“It was definitely nice,” Betthauser said of the team’s first place win. “What’s great is because in class we don’t get much time to interact much other than studying for tests ... this was great because we got to work with our peers to work on our applications toward the project.”
Last year, the SUNY Plattsburgh team utilized a catapult with a swinging arm, said Podolak. However, the students decided that for this year’s creation, they’d utilize a vertical drop system.
“The weights are dropped straight down to harness the natural force of gravity,” explained Podolak. “As the weights fall, a mechanism turns and the pumpkin flies forward ... We noticed those who had a vertical drop harnessed more gravitational force.”
The change in design paid off, but it wasn’t an overnight improvement.
“We did a lot of trial and error,” said Podolak, who added the team chronicled its progress with videos and photos.
Though this year the vertical drop was a recipe for success, Podolak said he and his team area already setting their sights on what next year’s design will entail.
“I think we can get even more distance,” he said. “We’ve already noticed where we can make improvements.”
Regardless of how they place, Podolak said he’s excited students have a chance to learn in an environment that takes them outside the classroom.
“This gives them a chance to go beyond sitting in a class every day and reading books ... this teaches them the practicality of things and really encourages their love of physics,” he said.
“It encourages discussions and, with something like this that helps charities, it teaches the importance of community involvement,” he added, noting the festival benefits the Lamoille Family Center in Morrisville, Vt., and the Cambridge Rotary.
The SUNY Plattsburgh team’s project was made possible by funding from the university’s student association. Last year’s project was funded through the university’s physics department.