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Students Battle with STEM Skills in Fourth Pumpkin Slinging Competition

Pumpkin Slinging 2019
New Jersey students used both brains and brawn to determine which school
could sling pumpkins farthest into Lake Picatinny, a competition on Oct. 18
designed to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
This was the fourth year that Picatinny Arsenal has hosted the event.

Morris Knolls High School students launched a pumpkin 162.7 meters on their second attempt to take top prize in a battle between high schools over which team could sling pumpkins farthest into Lake Picatinny in the fourth annual iteration of the Pumpkin Slinging Contest on Oct. 18.

The Morris Knolls students edged out Sussex County Technical High School’s stellar 161.6-meter launch in their first attempt during the contest.

More than 100 northern New Jersey students from eight schools matched engineering wits in a competition between the various catapult, trebuchet or launcher creations positioned in a parking lot in front of the lake.

Also participating in this year’s competition were Dover Middle School, Livingston High School, Morristown High School, Parsippany High School, Verona High School, and West Orange High School.

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.

“This is very, very important to us because you are our future,” said David R. Castellano, a senior executive at Picatinny Arsenal, as he underscored the importance of providing students with the knowledge needed for technical jobs such as those at Picatinny. Castellano is executive director of the Munitions Engineering Technology Center, part of the larger Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center.

“So I just want to welcome you all here and congratulate you on all your hard work and wish you all the best of luck,” Castellano told the student competitors. “Remember that safety is number one.”

In its initial attempt, the Morris Knolls trebuchet launched at a low angle that was not optimized for the greatest distance. The students made a launch angle adjustment, resulting in a launch that travelled nearly 74 meters farther for what proved to be the launch that captured the trophy.

The trebuchet’s design used a cam-shaped feature designed that “accelerates the acceleration” of the trebuchet’s pumpkin-propelling arm, said Bill Thalman, a team advisor.

The team participated in the contest last year with a similar design, but could not launch successfully as they were unable to hoist the weight into position safely. They improved their design by rebuilding the device so that it would accommodate an electric wench that safely hoisted the weights into position.

The pumpkin slinging competition 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.

The program 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.

Skills learned in the course of pumpkin slinging competition may someday lead some student participants to contribute to U.S. defense needs at the Arsenal or make STEM contributions to society, said Shah Dabiri, director of Picatinny STEM outreach.

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.

Timothy Rider
Monday, October 21, 2019