Physics Students Participate in Annual Pumpkin Drop

West Jefferson Hills School District  |  Posted on

Thomas Jefferson High School students in Mrs. Erikka Kuhse’s Physics Class were challenged with the task of researching and using their knowledge of physics concepts to design and build a protective apparatus for a pumpkin that will free fall from a predetermined height.

The goal of the project was to protect the pumpkin from any visible damage upon impact including scratches or cracks. This year, students worked independently instead of in teams to complete the structural engineering design process in accordance with the project guidelines:

1. Pumpkins must not exceed 10 inches in diameter or weigh more than 10 lbs. and must be orange in color
2. Protective apparatus weight AND pumpkin cannot exceed a weight limit of 60 lbs.
3. Protective apparatus cannot exceed the dimensions of .75m x .50m
4. The inside of the pumpkin may not be altered (no freezing, adding chemicals, etc.)
5. Pumpkins must free-fall (no bungee cords), and must land within the designated drop
zone (target)
6. No Styrofoam peanuts or other small, nonbiodegradable packing fillers
7. No hard materials such as wood, metal or glass are allowed
8. Package must be designed so that the pumpkin can be easily removed within 30 seconds of hitting the ground.
9. No electrical sources
10. Any entries that employ parachutes must be designed so that the parachute is dropped
at the same time as the pumpkin or prior to the pumpkin, NOT after
11. Protective structure around the pumpkin must be designed with public safety in mind
and contain no flying fragments or liquids.

The Pumpkin Drop was held virtually and in-person at the high school during the week of October 26, 2020. Out of 25 total in-person pumpkin drops, only nine pumpkins survived the 34-foot drop without a scratch.

Students documented their work throughout the entire process and shared their analysis in a project presentation. Presentations included details of the students’ protective apparatus design process, initial prototypes, before-and-after images of the Pumpkin Drop, graphs and calculations of mass, acceleration, velocity and force of gravity, as well as final conclusions and areas of improvement.

The Annual Pumpkin Drop is always a huge hit with the students, and it was a great way to reinforce Physics Concepts in a fun and engaging project.