ROMEOVILLE – College students. Pumpkins. Catapults.
What did you think was going to happen?
The Society of Physics Students at Lewis University answered that hypothesis Saturday by flinging gourds into dumpsters. The contents will be used as local compost.
“This is why we’re physics students,” said society President Joe Lambert. “We get to act like big kids while we understand the fundamentals of the universe and get to apply them.”
Faculty Chair Joe Kozminski said Will County Green approached the school last year for a paper shredding and compost event, and he felt physics students could add some fun to the event.
“He said, ‘We have an opportunity,’ and I was in and then he said, ‘Catapults,’ and I was definitely in,” Lambert recalled.
In the parking lot near the two dumpsters, students had set up wooden pallets and used bags of concrete to weigh down frames made of two-by-fours. A piece of galvanized pipe was used as fulcrum, and bungee cords kept the necessary tension on the launching arm.
Student Richard Wiencek said a medium-sized pumpkin was “pretty close to the maximum load” for the catapult to reach the dumpster as professor Ryan Hooper scooped up the remains of a missile that fell short of the mark.
“We want enough leverage ... and pitch [the catapult] between 30 to 40 degrees to get the minimum drag,” Wiencek said.
“If there was no atmosphere, 45 degrees [halfway between the ground and straight up] would be ideal, but because of the atmosphere 35 degrees is optimal conditions – just like hitting a baseball,” Hooper explained.
Hooper also expressed his goal to launch a pumpkin into the wooded area behind the dumpsters, which was reached by the lid of one jack-o’-lantern that shifted in flight and remained intact.
“That one’s still alive,” said a young girl who was watching the launch. Hooper said that one could be left for campus wildlife.
“I just threw mine at home into my compost, but for people who might not have a compost pile, this is our outreach,” he said.
Wiencek estimated it took students about 10 hours to build the catapult.
The Society of Physics Students plans to make bigger and better catapults next year and invite other groups and students to participate.
“We’d like to make this a big event the students will look forward to and enjoy each year,” Kozminski said.