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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

More than Two Decades and Annual Pumpkin Drop Going Strong

By Victoria Burke

"A Splashy Way to Spike People's Interest in Physics." A fitting quote from Professor Lawrence Weinstein for the 2017 Pumpkin Drop.

Old Dominion's annual pumpkin drop has been happening for more than 20 years. The goal of the project is to build a device that can catch a pumpkin dropped from the nine-story roof of the Batten Arts and Letters building without damaging it.

The first pumpkin drop was held in the mid-1990s. Walter Babel, a student at the time, helped organize it along with physics professor Charles Hyde.

Now, the ongoing event is run by Society of Physics students and their academic advisor. This year it will be held on Oct. 31 at 12:30 p.m.

ODU News sat down for a Q & A with Lawrence Weinstein, to find out more about the pumpkin drop.

Q. What is the reasoning/motivation behind the pumpkin drop?

A. It's a splashy way to spike people's interest in physics. It's also a great way to give physics students hands-on experience with real physics phenomena outside the lab.

Q. Which physics principles does the pumpkin drop illustrate?

A. Conservation of energy. Galileo's principle (that he demonstrated in his famous experiment on the Leaning Tower of Pisa) that objects fall at the same speed/rate no matter their weight. Damage is less when you cushion the impact.

Q. Has it always been done from the BAL building?

A. Yes.

Q. How many feet do they fall?

A. 100.

Q. What was the most surprising discovery that happened during a pumpkin drop?

A. How easy it was to stop pumpkins without damaging the pumpkin.

Q. How many students participate each year?

A. 30-40

Q. Is participation mandatory?

A. No. However, certain teachers give extra credit to the students for designing and building the pumpkin catcher.

Q. Top five winners have been?

  1. A tarp on wooden frame with ropes connected to gallon water jugs (it was also reusable).
  2. A box filled with partially full water balloons.
  3. The messiest was a bucket of mud.
  4. The shortest was a few layers of ceiling insulation.
  5. A large cardboard box filled with empty gallon milk cartons (easiest to make).

Q. What have YOU learned from the pumpkin drop?

A. "Physics can be great fun and you shouldn't take it too seriously."

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