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AP Physics class launches students into learning about projectile motion in North Augusta

November 14, 2017

There’s nothing saucy about flying tomatoes on North Augusta High School’s band practice field.

Students in Kathy Gambill’s AP Physics class at North Augusta spent a chilly Monday morning launching tomatoes across the field for a test grade, but also for fun.

For about 16 years, Gambill said, her AP Physics students have been making machines to apply principles they learn in class.

“We’ve been studying projectile motion and Newton’s laws, and then we will be studying energy transformations, so this is application of those principles that they’ve learned,” she said.

Gambill said guidelines for the launchers were that students had to be able to set it and shoot it from a distance, for safety reasons. The machines had to be all mechanical, not electric.

The students each had three practice shots, then three competition shots. They each tried to to get their tomatoes as close to the center of a hula hoop staked to the ground. After the competition, the class all shot their launchers at once.

Gambill said she gave the students an idea of what the distance would be, but they didn’t know that it was 66 feet until they arrived for the competition, so they each needed to adjust their machines.

The winner of the competition was Rebekah Adams. Her launcher used a 100 pound exercise band that she cranked back with a winch. Each of the students named their launchers; Adams named hers Cien Gatos, or “100 cats” in Spanish. The launcher had 100 cat stickers on it.

Adams said she was surprised she won, her tomatoes got around 2 feet away from the center of the hoop. Adams said she enjoyed the competition.

“I think it’s really good to build stuff rather than doing worksheets all the time because you can put it into action,” she said.

Gambill said the project is fun for students while also allowing them to apply principles they’ve learned.

“I think that’s actually why they take the class, because they know they’re going to do this, it’s a lot of fun for them,” she said.

She said it also can help students decide if they want to go into engineering after high school.

“They might think they do, but once they actually engineer something, they might say ‘Oh, I didn’t love this,’ or ‘I loved it.’ A lot of times it’s, ’I love this; I want to be an engineer.” So that’s great,” she said.

While Adams used an exercise band to launch her tomatoes, a different group built a trebuchet.

Zane Van Der Linden, Sean Lloyd and Tyler Buck made a floating arm trebuchet. After the competition, they shot a tomato as far as they could, just to see how far it could get. The tomato made it across Knobcone Avenue and the students guessed it landed somewhere around the football field.

Van Der Linden said he was definitely pleased with how it worked today.

“The accuracy was great but the distance was amazing,” he said.

“We knew with the floating arm trebuchet it would go, distance-wise, definitely a lot farther, and it was also a little more accurate than a regular trebuchet, so we were just trying to improve accuracy,” he said about the design.

Van Der Linden said they constructed the launcher over about three weeks, and put in about 50 to 60 hours.