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Austin Peay State University to debut Trebuchet at Clarksville BBQ Bash


Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Austin Peay State University (APSU) will haul its medieval siege machine to the Clarksville BBQ Bash on October 19th, 2019 to hurl pumpkins hundreds of feet.

Bryan Gaither – lab manager for the APSU Department of Physics, Engineering and Astronomy – has been working on the machine, called a trebuchet, for several weeks.

Austin Peay State University student Killian Prue (black shirt) and APSU physics lab manager Bryan Gaither (sunglasses) stand before Austin Peay's new trebuchet.

Austin Peay State University student Killian Prue (black shirt) and APSU physics lab manager Bryan Gaither (sunglasses) stand before Austin Peay’s new trebuchet.

A trebuchet is a type of catapult that uses a swinging arm to throw a projectile. The Austin Peay State University trebuchet – which measures about 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide – uses a counterweight to swing the arm.

The trebuchet will launch pumpkins – and perhaps other projectiles – throughout the festival, which is 10:00am-4:00pm at Liberty Park.

Gaither will use up to 600 pounds of counterweight to propel the pumpkins 200-300 feet, depending on the pumpkins’ sizes. He plans to sling a few 15-pound pumpkins at the BBQ Bash. He also designed the trebuchet to be modular and transportable so he can easily take it to events such as the barbecue festival.

The trebuchet in action won’t only be fun to watch as pumpkins fly through the sky, the machine also will offer students – those at APSU and the schoolchildren who stop by at the festival – a chance to learn about real-world engineering.

“I wanted it designed this way so that our students actually can model this, so they can model the forces, they can model the release angles, and get real-world data,” Gaither said.

The APSU College of STEM also will have a water balloon battleship game at the festival where children can experience projectile motion hands on, Gaither said. Students will have three progressive targets to aim at with their water balloon launchers.

“We’re trying to give them a conceptual understanding of projectile motion, like ‘I pulled back this far at this angle and it went this far, how do I adjust for a farther target or a closer target?’” Gaither said.

The trebuchet will be for demonstration only. Only Gaither and his team will fire the catapult.

Gaither is known for his high-power contraptions and demonstrations at Austin Peay State University. Earlier this year, he built a cannon that fires pingpong balls that break the sound barrier, traveling more than 1,000 mph.

The trebuchet is a project he planned with a former APSU student.

“If you study hard, get good grades, listen to your parents, eat your vegetables, do your homework, you can come to Austin Peay and study physics with us,” Gaither said. “And if you want to build something crazy, I will do anything I can to help you build it.”

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