Simanaitis Says

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CATAPULTING INTO SCIENCE

ARTICLES IN The Orange County Register, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, seem to counter each other. One laments the apparently low priority in the U.S. given to mathematics and science. The other describes the fifth annual Pumpkin Launch at Cal State Fullerton.

I believe as long as we have neat things like the latter, the former problem will solve itself.

The Pumpkin Launch is sponsored by California State University, Fullerton, Orange County’s Discovery Science Center and the Future Scientists and Engineers of America. This year, more than 4000 spectators watched 16 teams show how far—and how accurately—they could project 8-10-lb. pumpkins using devices of their own design and fabrication.

A pumpkin is outta here, launched from a catapult designed and constructed by Cal State Fullerton’s American Society of Civil Engineers team. Photo by Mindy Schauer, The Orange County Register.

Pumpkin launches are run in other parts of the country as well, particularly at this time of year. Check out http://youtu.be/_l2PrLHymDk for a neat video of high school kids taking part in the 2009 competition.

It’s clear these kids, their teachers and sponsors have placed the right priorities on science and mathematics. They worked hard to achieve their goals, they learned a lot and they evidently made a real splash—or is that smash?—doing so.

The other article, “Science and Math Education on Back Burner,” reports on a study by the Program for International Student Assessment. Based on test scores of 15-year-olds, it argues that U.S. students rank 23rd in science and 31st in mathematics, far behind many European and Asian counterparts.

One perceived problem is the pacing of science and math education. For instance, Korean seventh-graders learn algebraic topics that typical U.S. kids don’t see for another two years. The article also notes that size and diversity of the U.S. create these educational challenges.

However, I’d argue that our size and diversity are strengths, not weaknesses.

True, a few parents don’t care a hoot about their kids’ education. But there are also dedicated parents and teachers who encourage the best of kids to participate in honors and other advanced programs. These are the U.S. students who learn to develop technology, to innovate, to excel.

And, yes, along the way to launch pumpkins.

On a personal note, though pumpkins are currently beyond our catapulting capability, we do have two catapults.

Our Da Vinci catapult can hurl a grape across the room. I thought the cats would be amused, but they feign indifference.

Said to be designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, this catapult exploits the potential energy stored in deformation of wooden slats. Cords wound around a ratcheted drum bend the wooden slats; upon release, the slats straighten, the drum rotates and its linked arm is thrust forward.

A gift from Maine friend René Letourneau, my other catapult is a suitably camouflaged Pneumatic Projectile Delivery Device. It exploits a surge of air pressure to spew its rubber ball more or less where pointed.

A PPDD is capable of projecting its rubber ball perhaps 10 ft.

You poke the ball into the moose’s mouth, then aim and squeeze.

I wonder if I could upsize the concept to pumpkins? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2012 by in Sci-Tech and tagged , , .
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