Gravity Works – and Many of the Catchers as Well – at Annual Pumpkin Drop
By Jim Raper
Success came early and often for students who had built the 10 "catchers" that competed in Old Dominion University's annual Pumpkin Drop Thursday. The very first pumpkin dropped from atop the Batten Arts and Letters Building was given a soft landing by a cardboard box deftly filled with sofa cushions.
The Pumpkin Drop is an annual event sponsored by the ODU Society of Physics Students. It drew close to 250 people, some scientific minded and others there for the excitement, including youngsters from the ODU Children's Learning and Research Center.
Of course, most of the pumpkins dropped nine stories in the direction of the catchers did not survive the fall intact. Splattering pumpkins, which sometimes shower observers with pumpkin seeds, are part of the entertainment. But four of the first five catchers were successful, setting the stage for what organizers called one of the most "kinetic energy dissipating" days ever in the 15-year history of the event. Six of the 10 catchers eventually managed to accomplish their purpose.
Perhaps, one student suggested, the success of the catchers had something to do with the fact that the Pumpkin Drop fell this year on Halloween Day. The drop is always on the last Thursday in October, but not since 2002 had the event happened on Halloween Day.
The first successful catcher was entered by the Plan B Team of Sierra Nash, Julisa Torres, Wendy O'Neil and Victoria Ford from the Physics 101 class of Larry Weinstein, a University Professor and Eminent Scholar who also leads experiments in nuclear physics at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News.
Plan B was also the winner of the Shortest Successful Catcher award.
Another team - it was called, simply, Team 5 - that Weinstein mentored built a catcher of an assortment of old furniture, foam sheets and tarps it had found littering area roadways. That catcher, entered by Ryan Gaudreau, Lauren Luckett, Megan McDonald, Sarah Salch and Dakota Wiand, managed to give soft landings to two pumpkins and win the Most Creative Successful Catcher award.
Winner of the Most Reusable Catcher award was the Breaking Bad Pumpkins team of Joshua Kufleitner and Courtney Graham, who are also Weinstein's students.