Physics professors and some physics students will tell you that physics is fun. Especially when it involves launching gourds into the air in a distance contest.
Each year for more than a decade, Professor of Physics Richard Stevens has assigned his engineering-orientation students the task of designing and building simple machines that launch pumpkins as far as possible using only mechanical means. Students work in teams and apply basic physics and engineering principals to build their machines.
The most common design is the trebuchet, in which counterweights launch the pumpkin. Other popular designs are slingshots and catapults, which use the large springs found in garage doors. The Medieval-esque contest, held each year in the Back 40, has captured interest from local media.
Stevens returns to this project each year as a way for students to put their classroom knowledge into action, to gain experience working in teams, and to learn to be creative when working with limited resources. “These students are mostly freshmen, and this project is intended to help them decide whether or not they want to become engineers,” he said.