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Chuckin’ Pumpkins in the Name of Science

05 November 2012 Written by  Jon Kovash
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Chuckin’ Pumpkins in the Name of Science J. Kovash

Pumpkin Chuckin’, the closest thing Moab has to a county fair, has also become the competition of choice among regional science students, who vie for trophies and cash prizes. Contestants are judged on chucking distance and accuracy, as well as machine design, sportsmanship and presentation.

Pumpkin Chuckin’ veterans, the Bluff Whippersnappers met with two more weeks to prepare. Dudley Beck, one of the mentors for the Bluff Team describes how the team approached the project, “It’s mostly their design. They went online and researched this on the net, and they came up with the design.”

“The actual building of it, the hands-on building of it, is something I’ve learned. And I’ve used more tools with these guys than I have before,” says Jill Hook, the only girl on the Bluff team.

The youth teams competed in the slingshot and trebuchet categories. A trebuchet is a type of catapult that uses counterweights to add kinetic energy to the shot.

Tarik Tumeh outlines some of the problems the team is trying to solve, “With our new trebuchet, there’s a lot of measurements, and trying to figure out which parts are needed to be how big to make it work, and fitting all that into a blueprint.”

Spencer Beck adds, “We don’t throw as far as some of the other groups, because we have a small trebuchet, but we’re really accurate.”

But why pumpkin chuckin’? The Moab event was inspired seven years ago by the National Pumpkin Chuckin’ Championship, held in Delaware. It’s a fundraiser for Moab’s Youth Garden Project, which maintains a community garden and its own science education program. “It’s kind of this quirky thing that was either going to be a success or not. And people were either going to catch on to it, and love it, or not really understand it,” says director Delite Primus.

And catch on it did. This year the youth division exploded from one to six teams. Over at the Moab High School, the math department started a new team called the Paintball Pirates, which attracted math and science students, including Damian Souell and Damian Pogue.

“It seems like something new, a good opportunity to actually get out there and do something besides just staying inside and playing video games all day,” remarks Souell.

“I just went to the Pumpkin Chuckin’ last year, I saw some of the crazy things they were building and it interested me.,” says Pogue. “Well, just shooting a pumpkin in the air and trying to hit something sounds pretty interesting.”

Their advisor, Math teacher Ryan Hand adds, “These kids are figuring out that the mathematics they are learning in school does have a practical application.”

Another new team, the Thunderbirds, came out of Moab’s Beacon after school program, which has for years had a competitive robotics team. Stephanie Dahlstrom, Beacon’s director, says Pumpkin Chuckin’ was a natural to add to the enriched science program, “We really try to have fun things, and connect that fun with science. They’re learning even when they don’t even know they’re learning.”

The Thunderbirds were among the teams setting up their chuckers and making practice shots the day before the competition. “We’ve been shooting all morning in our exhibitions. We’ve toyed with the design, ran some experiments, and made some hypotheses. We shot it a couple of different ways, and to different tensions, controlling different variables,” says advisor Eric Clapper. “But we haven’t really tried to max this thing out yet because we didn’t want anything to break before we really needed it.”

On the day of the contest, more than 2,000 people gathered at the old airport. Cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd, the youth division teams launched their pumpkins. At the final tally, the Thunderbirds held first place for slingshots, the Paintball Pirates were first among the trebuchets, and the Whippersnappers made the longest shot, at 110 feet.


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