November 13, 2012

PSU students good with gourds


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Want to chuck a pumpkin vast distances with a homemade trebuchet?

Here’s how: R=V2 sin20/g.

At least that’s the formula that has made the students of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Physics and Engineering Club perennial favorites at the yearly Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival in Cambridge, Vt.

This year, the students and their mentor, physics professor Dr. Ken Podolak, took second place, following up on 2011’s first-place victory. 


“I saw a lot of students who wanted to get out and do things, be active,” said Podolak, explaining why he formed the club.

The college, he said, has been supportive of the club, providing funding and access to facilities. It has about 20 regular members, with eight to 10 taking part on the pumpkin chucking team each year.

“It’s like a family for me,” said Dan Stowe, a sophomore physics major from New Windsor. “I can go to meetings and talk to people who share the same interests with me, have the same ideas and think the same way.”

This is Stowe’s second year in the club but the first time he has actively competed in the Pumpkin Chuckin’ contest.


Last year’s winning “chuck” was 130 feet. This year, the team was able to amp up its throw to 220 feet, only to take second place.

“The guy who won, he actually watched our video from last year and got some ideas on how to make his even better, and he just edged us out on some small things,” Podolak said.

The reason for the team’s incredible increase in distance from last year to this time around, according to Stowe, is that they designed a new “floating arm” trebuchet, which offers a better weight-to-throw-distance ratio than other designs.

Typically, the team will build off its design from the previous year, the members adding what they’ve learned from their own effort, as well as from other competitors and the world of science.

The team members are already considering ways to tweak their design for next year and hopefully bring home the gold once again.

“I don’t really want to say more on the design,” Stowe said. “But we definitely have an idea about what kind of trebuchet we want to build and how we want to do it.” 

Pumpkin chuckers take their business seriously.

Podalak is quick to point out that, along with the fun atmosphere of the competition, the Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival raises money for a good cause: the Lamoille Family Center in Lamoille County, Vt.


The Physics and Engineering Club does more than just throw pumpkins in a farm field once a year. The members work on other projects and are always on the lookout for contests. They are currently working on a prototype for a new design of electric car that they eventually hope to enter in the Schell Eco-marathon in Houston.

“We want to build it, so we can test it and make modifications,” Stowe said. “Then, after we think the car is complete, we can enter it into competitions.”

Podolak sees a simple reason for the success of the Physics and Engineering Club.

“My students are very dedicated. They are incredible workers, doing all this on their own without being paid or anything.”

Stowe, though, says it has as much to do with their professor, who is taking their learning out of the textbook, opening it up to the real world and making it fun.



Videos of the Plattsburgh State team's pumpkin-chuck efforts can be found on YouTube or at