NEW ALBANY — About two years ago, Alex Long said he learned the formulas associated with Newton's second law of motion. It states that the more mass an object has, the more force is required to accelerate it.

Long didn't know, though, that he'd be using that to launch a pumpkin as far as he possibly could at Purdue Polytechnic's second annual Pumpkin Chunking Competition on Tuesday.

“We just thought it would be fun,” Long, a senior at Silver Creek High School and member of the school's team. “Just launching pumpkins the length of a football field sounded awesome.”

This year, seven trebuchets — launchers similar to catapults — were built by different teams to fling the seasonal cultivars of squash down a 125 yard field. Purdue built its own trebuchet, but three high school teams, two enthusiast trebuchets and one corporate team faced off in the competition.

William Becht, a senior in Purdue's mechanical engineering technology program, helped with the school's machine for the second year in a row. After just trying to succeed in building anything at all last year, he said they wanted to apply their knowledge and really exceed last year's performance with a new design.

“It's really been fun because you get a lot of input from the community,” Becht said. “My dad has had a good time giving us input and it's been good to have his perspective. You can never have too many sets of eyes on something like this.”

Becht said this year, Purdue built a floating arm trebuchet. He said the design is more efficient and gives the team “more bang for their buck” than last year's simpler design. They got a 16-pound bowling ball to fly the full length of the course before the competition started up.

He said he and his team, including fellow students Ben Wellner and Norman Elam, along with his brother, Jesse, have worked every Sunday for the last eight weeks building and testing the machine.

Other teams had as much time, but had other obligations that made building a little more difficult. Samtec is the competition's first corporate challenger. Derek Bernardi, an engineer at the company, said his team is used to bringing work home with them, but after several design changes, they just tried to build something that would work as quickly as possible.

Though their design wasn't as complex as some of the others in the field, he said they had fun with the project.

“There were some stressful nights, but that first night when we got it to fire correctly, we all just cheered,” Bernardi said. “There was a lot of stress leading up to this, but it's been a lot of fun.”

He said he plans on competing again next year, but hopes they can get a more comprehensive design together next time around.

This year, more student teams also signed up. Floyd Central High School returned to the competition, New Albany High School joined up and Silver Creek High School brought a team from their engineering courses.

John Edrington, a visiting assistant professor in mechanical engineering technology at the campus, said help also came from local groups to give teams a break in building materials. Each student team — college and high school — got $400 of lumber from PC Home Center in New Albany at company cost. He also said all the entry fees were donated to Harvest Homecoming for its scholarships awarded during “Who Wants to be a College Student?”

Edrington said he's glad to see high schools pushing students to join the competition and apply their engineering knowledge. That might be the push to get them into programs like Purdue's, he said.

He said for Purdue's team, he's glad they took a different approach to building this year.

“From my point of view, it's amazing to see students take that leap of faith,” Edrington said. “Some of these are complicated designs and there's no guarantee they will work.”

I'm the education reporter for the News and Tribune, covering four public school districts, private and charter schools, local universities and education programs in Clark and Floyd counties. Send story ideas my way!

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