High School "Physics Day"
Will Feature Catapult Contest
Posted April 24, 2001
HOLLAND -- Modern-day high school students will
tackle centuries-old technology during the seventh annual
"Physics Day" at Hope College on Thursday, May 3.
In anticipation of the event, teams of students
from 13 Michigan high schools are constructing miniature
trebuchets--catapult-like siege engines used during the
Middle Ages. Their mission: build a working model that
will be able to hurl a projectile at a target accurately.
Trebuchets work something like a misbalanced see-
saw board. The projectile is placed on the long end, which
is held low to the ground. A weight is attached to the
short end, which is raised in the air. When the long end is
released, the weighted short end drops, pulling the long end
up and forward fast. The projectile goes with it, and then
To keep the challenge even, every four-member team
has been sent an "official" contest projectile to hurl.
Among other criteria, the trebuchets can't be more than
about half a meter (19 inches) on any given side; the
trebuchet can't weigh more than five kilograms (about 11
pounds); some sort of trigger has to be built in (even if
only a pull-string with a latch); and all of the energy for
throwing the ball must come from "gravitational energy."
The contest will be held in the gymnasium of the
college's Dow Center. The contestants haven't been told
what range to shoot for--only that it won't exceed 25 meters
(about 82 feet). The most accurate throw will win.
The contest is one of three events in which the
four-member teams will compete. Later in the morning, they
will have a chance to solve a physics problem presented to
them at the time, using only their wits and materials
provided. Following lunch, each team will solve a set of
The event is coordinated by the college's
department of physics. The two teams that earn the highest
scores through the three events will receive a monetary
prize to support the teaching of science at their respective
The schools participating this year include:
Bangor High School, Battle Creek Area Math and Science
Center, Fennville High School, Grand Ledge High School,
Hackett High School, Holland Christian High School, Holland
High School, Howardville Christian High School, Kalamazoo
Central High School, Lansing Catholic Central High School,
Morrice High School, St. Joseph High School and West Ottawa