Sussex County Technical School students launched a pumpkin 160 meters on their first attempt to take top prize in a battle between high schools over which team could sling pumpkins farthest into Lake Picatinny in the fifth iteration of the Pumpkin Slinging Contest here today.
Students and their teachers representing Dover Middle School, New Providence High School, Madison High School, Sussex County Technical School, and West Orange High School competed in the event that matched engineering wits in this competition between the various catapult, trebuchet or launcher creations positioned in a parking lot in front of the lake.
Samantha Masih a senior and part of the engineering team for the Sussex County school said the design for her team’s trebuchet was based on a model used here by a previous team, but with some adjustments.
“We got second place last time,” said Masih. “We wanted to see if we could make the sling longer, the radius longer, whether it would launch longer.” To accommodate the longer sling the team made their device taller and changed the dimensions of the arm.
The Sussex team had tested a carbon fiber arm, but it broke during the tests. They brought extra metal arms and pivot rods to the contest today: “We know the amount of weight we put on is like 800 pounds, so they end up bending,” said Masih.
The amount of energy required to launch pumpkins into the lake was visible with the bent metal and broken components seen during the event: The Sussex team lost a trebuchet arm due to bending, a sling broke during their second throw -- resulting in a generally vertical pumpkin launch -- and a pumpkin burst into pieces upon their third launch.
The New Providence team got their best launch and a third-place 63-meters, even though the bar holding the gym-type weights bent into a U-shape as the trebuchet launched the pumpkin.
“These students embarked on a STEM journey leveraging physics, engineering, carpentry skills and sheer ingenuity to build the pumpkin slings that you see before you,” said Lt. Col. Kevin P. Shilley, Military Deputy U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armament Center and Picatinny Arsenal, as part of the event’s kickoff.
“The most exciting part of engineering is to see what happens when these ideas and efforts meet reality,” said Shilley. “Learn from what works the way you expected it and what does not. They call this experience, or wisdom.”
The three-member middle school team from Dover launched their pumpkin 16.8 meters. “Dover was the only middle school that attended, and they have attended all five events,” said Giulia Grotenhuis, event organizer. “One of my greatest joys is to see Dover Middle School hit the water.”
West Orange High school’s best launch was 23 meters. Madison High School’s 91-meter launch earned second place.
New entrants, New Providence High School, won the safety award for how one of their members verbalized their procedural checklist as the team underwent preparations for launch.
The pumpkin slinging contest allows participants to use science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a fun and competitive way. By building catapults to sling pumpkins, participants use physics and mathematics skills such as linear kinematics, projectile motion, trigonometry, and engineering physics.
The pumpkin slinging competition, now in its fifth year, is one of many activities that are part of Picatinny’s STEM Educational Outreach Program. Nearly 200 Picatinny scientists and engineers have volunteered to support STEM education. That support includes over 1,000 classroom visits, staffing over 100 educational field trips to Picatinny Arsenal’s working laboratories, assisting nearly 800 teachers, and inspiring 50,000 students in over 400 schools.
The STEM program supports public and private schools, colleges and universities with no-cost assistance, professional development training, new instructional equipment, and monetary and advisory support to student robotics teams.
They also offer engineer mentors, sponsorship of student competitions, and opportunities to visit scientists and engineers in their laboratories, where students get a first-hand look at how professionals rise to meet STEM challenges.
This STEM education outreach is custom tailored to meet the specific needs of individual schools. It has already positively impacted tens of thousands of students and hundreds of teachers in New Jersey with knowledge of cutting edge technologies and the inevitable changes they will bring to education, employment and daily life in the 21st Century. Picatinny’s STEM program has been recognized by the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate of the United States House of Representatives.