Slinging Pumpkins in the Name of Science

By Erin Delmore

Forget the holiday pie. Picatinny Arsenal’s got a better use for those leftover pumpkins.

The military research and manufacturing facility is turning Lake Picatinny into ground zero for the first-ever pumpkin slinging STEM competition, or as it’s better known, some good old-fashioned pumpkin chucking.

“It’s an answer to the age-old question: ‘When am I ever going to use this?’ So the kids are studying math, science and physics all day long. There’s no application. This is a chance to actually build something using your know-how to hurl a pumpkin 300 feet into my lake,” said Picatinny Technology Manager Shahram Dabiri.

What goes into building one?

“A lot of time and effort. Also a lot of wood,” said Madison High School senior Sawyer Tadano.

More than 50 middle and high school students tested their engineering skills with homemade trebuchets.

“It’s slightly different from a catapult in that it has a floating arm, so basically what that means is that you have a weight and then that kind of leads the whole thing through its motion and then launches the pumpkin at the end,” Tadano said.

The weapons were all the rage during the Medieval era. Our modern-day cannon artillery is much more sophisticated and it’s made right here at Picatinny.

“My students are just in love with looking at the different armaments out here and their expertise, the engineers at Picatinny, and they’re hoping to learn from them,” said Marc Aranguren, a physics and engineering teacher at Hillside High School. “They’re also hoping to learn from the other teams so that this way next year we’re a little more prepared.”

“The engineers are definitely giving us a lot of techniques; how we can keep it structurally safe and also just the whole entire physics behind it, how far it’s going to launch, how the weights effect how far it’s going to go,” said Dane Simoes, a senior at Hillside High School.

So, why pumpkins? The team at Picatinny Arsenal says they can stand up to the kind of force these kids are putting them through plus they’re easy to find this time of year. They’re also easy on the environment. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

“You’re out in the field. Your hands on. It’s pretty good,” said senior Ismael Jose.

An added bonus: while these students are launching their pumpkins, the folks at Picatinny say they hope they’re launching the next generation of science, tech, engineering and math professionals.