Arlington Physics Teacher Puts Knowledge to the Test . . . on Pumpkins


(Thursday, November 16, 2006 2:16 PM EST)

Pumpkins and engineers united at the annual Punkin Chunkin World Championship the weekend of Nov. 4-5, and Yorktown physics teacher Dan Carroll proudly represented Arlington at the event.

The Punkin Chunkin is an annual competition in Delaware that challenges participants to use their physics and engineering know-how to build pumpkin-throwing machines, Carroll told the Sun Gazette in a recent interview.

Different classes of machines include those powered by air cannon, medieval trebuchet, human power, centrifugal force, torsion and catapult power. The machine that throws the pumpkin the farthest wins.

Although Carroll has attended the competition for the past 10 years, this is the first year he entered a machine.

Around 100 teams from around the world participated at the event. Competition ranged from top MIT engineers to people who just wanted to have a little fun.

Winners from the adult division threw pumpkins at distances ranging from 1,500 to 4,000 feet. Unfortunately for Carroll, his human-powered machine, built around an exercise bike, threw the pumpkin only four feet.

Carroll wasn't discouraged.

“We did OK, considering the machine was a pile of wood the Wednesday before the competition,” Carroll said.

And it always could have been worse. Legend has it that one participant's launch sent his pumpkin veering backwards, where it hit a car in the parking lot.

Carroll started developing the idea for his machine a couple years ago. But because Arlington does not have much room to practice pumpkin tossing, he did not have a chance to test out the machine until the day of the competition.

He hopes to start a Punkin Chunkin club at Yorktown next year to get students involved in the competition.

“It's a lot of fun,” Carroll said. “I would encourage anyone to build a machine.”

Although his machine didn't place, Carroll didn't leave the competition empty-handed. He won first place in the pumpkin cooking competition, for his crab cake with fresh pumpkin.

Yorktown High School physics teacher Dan Carroll, shown with supporters and family members, at the Pumpkin Chunkin festival held recently.

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