SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

What can flinging a pumpkin teach you about physics?

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

When it comes to pumpkins, you can use them as decorations, make bread or pies, or you can fling them off the top of a Princeton University building and see if they’ll land on a target. That’s exactly what happened at the University’s 2nd annual pumpkin toss.

The pumpkin toss may seem like just some Halloween fun, but it’s actually a physics lesson.

“Usually in math and physics you don’t see the real applications, but for this you can actually calculate based on the initial speed and how far you pull back the springs how far the pumpkin’s going to go,” said Princeton graduate student Nicholas Quirk.

Spectators loudly counted down before each pumpkin was launched from a fourth story rooftop, into the middle of a courtyard. All five teams had three attempts to hit the target.

“Our policy was, if it lands on the line, it will be counted up. But unfortunately a lot of them were right on the border between 10 and 7, so there were definitely some finger debates among the judges during that,” said Princeton University junior Max Jerdee.

“We measured the distance. It’s a pretty small target so we really had to do some calculations to make sure that we were going to hit it. There are blackboards where trajectories are being explained. We can explain why things fly off a charged object,” said Princeton physics professor Herman Verlinde.

For safety purposes, the dozens of cheering spectators who turned out for the event weren’t allowed on the roof but got to see all the action on a live video projected on a jumbo screen.

“The most challenging part is to have confidence. Actually, you have to be quite stable when you try to launch the pumpkin because it has some degree of freedom all over it. But I think the most important part is you have to work as a team,” said graduate student Yuhan Wang.

“The Undertakers”, made up of all undergrads, were the winners of this year’s toss. They say they’re happy to show people that math and science isn’t always boring.

“I think there’s a lot of idea that math, physics, and the hard sciences are this very serious, no fun allowed. But as you can see, all the professors are up there goofing around throwing these cryogenically-frozen pumpkins off the roof,” said junior Matan Grinverg.

“The Undertakers” scored three perfect 10 pointers across the board to sweep the competition and take home the pumpkin toss trophy.