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Engineering Students Prepare for Pumpkin Launch

Nov. 10 Event Will Draw Thousands to University Athletic Fields for High-Flying Fun

Oct. 30, 2012 | Updated Nov. 13, 2012

UPDATED Nov. 13, 2012: The fifth annual Pumpkin Launch Nov. 10 at Cal State Fullerton drew close to 5,000 children and adults who watched in sheer delight at the sight of the flying gourds.

Oohs and ahhs shrieked from the crowd as pumpkins were flung high into the sky from giant trebuchets and other handmade launching devices, aiming for the queen’s crown, dragon, medieval shield or castle wall targets. Some devices were more accurate than others as 8- to 10-pound pumpkins flew smack-dab into medieval-themed targets 90 to 295 feet away, while others missed, and gourds went crashing to the ground.

After five rounds of smashing pumpkins, two Cal State Fullerton teams garnered second- and third-place wins in the fun and friendly competition, which drew a field of 16 teams. Eight of the teams were composed of students from the colleges of Engineering and Computer Science and Natural Sciences and Mathematics.           

CSUF students active in the campus chapters of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Society of Automotive Engineers, which teamed for the competition, came in second place, hitting three of the five intended targets. The all-female student team, whose members belong to the campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, won third place.
“We had a successful entry, and this year, we had an accurate catapult!” said senior Michael Gustafson, a mechanical engineering major and co-captain of the ASME/SAE team, after the competition.

So what does it mean for his team to place in the top three? “Nothing. Maybe bragging rights around the college,” grinned Gustafson, SAE chapter president.

“The event is a reason to get kids excited about science — to introduce them to engineering and physics, and to get parents to start fostering their interest in the sciences,” he explained. “It's important that kids get exposure to these physics and engineering principles early.”

First place went to Team Lobbit, a community team and past competitor. To see a video of the event, go to YouTube.


Cal State Fullerton student engineers are putting final touches on their meticulously engineered catapults and trebuchets to compete for trophies in the Nov. 10 Pumpkin Launch on campus.

We hope to improve upon how we did last year — and yes, we hope to win this year," said mechanical engineering major Andrew Raya, whose team in 2011 almost made the top three.

Raya is this year's team captain of the student chapters of the MAES-Latinos in Science and Engineering and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, which teamed to build a trebuchet.

His group is one of eight CSUF teams — totaling more than 50 students — from the colleges of Engineering and Computer Science and Natural Sciences and Mathematics vying in the fifth annual event, hosted by Cal State Fullerton, the Discovery Science Center and Future Scientists and Engineers of America.

More than 5,000 spectators are expected to attend the family-oriented event scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine, on the CSUF athletics fields. The Pumpkin Launch competition begins at noon.

"The competition is exhilarating and provides the college's students with the opportunity to combine a lot of fun with a lot of engineering substance," said Raman M. Unnikrishnan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Sixteen launch teams made up of local middle school, high school and college students, plus community members will fling pumpkins into the air from specially made medieval-era devices — in attempts to hit targets on the field and rack up the most points.

"Launching a pumpkin and hitting a target is not a trivial engineering problem. One has to do a lot of analysis of the trajectory of the launch, including predicting the point of impaction," explained Unnikrishnan.

"Secondly, one has to design the equipment, such as a trebuchet, which is used to actually launch the pumpkin, and then the device has to be fabricated. Design, implementation and, finally, the execution of a complex task are the fundamental elements of any engineering design project — and the Pumpkin Launch is no different," he added.

Last year, Cal State Fullerton's first all-female team from the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers won second place; the CSUF student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers won the 2008 Pumpkin Launch.

Participating in the competition has given Raya's 10-member team the opportunity to work together and learn from each other to design, build and test their device with a deadline to meet, he said. The team also used a software program to help members visualize the finished trebuchet and make all the parts the correct dimension, in order to give the team the competitive edge.

Raya of Placentia added that it is important for college students to participate in the event, which showcases science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines to get others, especially children, thinking about a career in these fields.

"This event helps to expand the knowledge of STEM fields to a younger generation by getting kids interested early." said Raya, who plans to graduate in May. "It also allows kids the chance to see the practical application of the knowledge they would learn as an engineer and how engineering and other STEM fields affect our lives every day."

In addition to the launch competition, the event will feature a host of engineering- and science-related activities for children. More than 50 Cal State Fullerton engineering students will be volunteering to introduce children to engineering concepts and science. Activities include hands-on lessons on how to build pop rockets, as well as catapults made of Popsicle sticks and launched with marshmallows.

Students from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers will be on hand teaching young attendees how to make a lava lamp. "My club believes that it is very important to introduce children to the world of engineering and science and show them how much fun these fields can be," agreed Roupanshee Sharma, chapter president.

"Even though many of the children who come to this event may not become a scientist or an engineer, at some point of their lives, they will need science to cope with their rapidly changing environment," added Sharma, a computer science major. "Young children need our help to prepare for the future, and it is our job as college students to introduce them to the world of science and technology."

Other Cal State Fullerton chapters of student organizations building Pumpkin Launch devices are: the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers/Society of Automotive Engineers, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the Physics Club and Society of Women Engineers.

CSUF student teams not affiliated with a club are Team Santiago and Titanium.

Faculty advisers are: David J. Cheng, professor of electrical engineering; Pratanu Ghosh and Harmonie Hawley, assistant professors of civil and environmental engineering; Nina Robson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; and Eryk Stacy, lecturer in mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering adviser.

Also advising the teams are: Shovit Bhari, staff physicist in the Physics Department; Sergio Guerra, director of the Center for Academic Support in Engineering and Computer Science; and Jonathan Woodland, machine shop equipment technician.

The Pumpkin Launch will feature a medieval showcase of costumes, weapons and weaving materials, as well as specialty food trucks.

Cal State Fullerton is located at 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, 92831. Parking is free on Saturday. Campus map and directions are available online. While the event is free, registration is requested.

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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