Merced College students learn to "siege the day"

May 2, 2013 12:35:52 AM PDT
Teams of students at Merced College designed and built their own versions of "siege" engines, basically catapults.

Used as weapons of war for more than two thousand years, these versions were far from deadly. Using basketballs as ammunition, the students manned their weapon and fired away. Some didn't go too far away. Straight up, or even backwards. But Physics Instructor Lana Jordan says it's a real learning experience.

Jordan said, "They learn about levers, they learn about angular acceleration they learn about torque they learn about stability they learn about projectile motion, obviously going through the air, they learn about counterweights and simple machines, materials, what's gonna hold up whats not gonna hold up so it's sort of an all-encompassing program."

The only battle on this field was for a grade. In order to get an "A" students had to be able to successfully launch a ball 15 meters, or about 50 feet. Most were able to make it and some kept going, for extra credit.

The early lead went to Nicole Alt and her team, with a catapult launch of 38 meters, about 125 feet. But they were trying for more.

Alt said, "Oh yeah there's always tweaks that can be made, more calculations that you can do that make it better and make it farther."

But they were quickly overtaken by a trebuchet a wheeled design several hundred years newer than the catapult. The ball was hurtled 75 meters almost 250 feet. A new record in this 15 year old event.

Designer Derek Hollenbeck was pleased. "I was a little surprised I really didn't expect it to go that far."

Students had fun, but the goal was to learn. Ancient designs to help catapult these students into the future.

Jordan put it this way, "People who are going to make the big decisions need to have a science background. You need to be scientifically literate if you are going to progress in this next century."

And those who didn't go the distance were given a "B" for making a device, and trying.


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