Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

Kaufhold Wins Thomas Jefferson Ballistics Competition

Posted 05/23/2008 by Morgan Dorn

On April 24th and April 25th, a vicious battle of mind and mechanics raged on the soccer field of TJ, pitting student against student, and even student against teacher.
by Morgan Dorn
photo by Manuel Perez

Nick.jpg     Nelson Vore’s Physics students took to the battlefield Thursday and Friday April 24th and 25th to apply what they had been learning all year long in his Physics class: mechanics and projectile motion.  

    The task for the students was to build a catapult that could, “launch here, and blow something up over there,” said Mr. Vore.   The rules were simple; the students had to build the catapult themselves, using any materials they could imagine and acquire, as long as they weren’t part of a pre-made catapult kit.  The perimeter of the catapult wasn’t allowed to be more than one square meter, and the catapult could only harness elastic (rubber tubing) or gravitational energy (a dropping weight), as a force to propel the projectile.  As for the projectiles used, anything went, so long as they were spherical and at least as big as a golf ball – no explosives.
    The competition on Thursday was centered on testing the accuracy of the students’ catapults.  A target egg was placed at several different lengths from the catapult being tested (from 5, 5.5, 6, 6.5 and so on until 11 meters).  The catapult’s projectile was to hit or land as close to the egg as possible at each length, in only one shot. To attain this accuracy the students had to go through a lengthy process of making test shots and graphing results, using physics equations to calibrate their catapult to produce constant and predictable results.  The student who excelled at this portion and who was able to most accurately calibrate his catapult into an accurate, fear monger of not-yet-fertilized chickens (eggs) was Senior Nicholas Kaufhold of Vore’s 2nd period physics class.

     Kaufhold’s catapult was a relatively small contraption about one and a half feet squared in size.  Taking only an hour and a half to assemble, the winning catapult was made up of wood, springs, hinges and a measuring cup which held Kaufhold’s golf ball projectile.  However, creating the little winner was not an easy task.  “I probably spent a good three hours straight calculating the range chart.  Finding the right calibration to make it so accurate was pretty hard, but it was all worth it because I proved that big things do come in small packages,” said Kaufhold.
    Vore was also excited for Kaufhold’s success, describing him as being “catapulttastic” and saying that, “…he was pretty consistent; he could land his projectile within a foot, or foot and a half of the target each time.  What happened a lot was that a kid would get one or two really good shots and then four shots would be pretty far off, but Nick could get it in there pretty close almost every time.” Nick beat out a combination of physics honors and regular physics students to win Thursday’s competition and was awarded heartily.  “He got big extra credit, and fame, and glory,” said a proud Vore.
    The winning of the competition means more than an “A” grade to Kaufhold, who is attending Colorado State University in the fall and plans to major in Physics.  His success is a testament to the fulfillment of his dream to become a world-famous physicist. “One day I hope to have reached a high level of success.  Hard work and dedication don’t just fall out of the sky.  It takes a solid foundation and a wholehearted effort.  This one win, although minute, may lead to an even bigger one where I hit the egg on the head,” said Nick.
    Following the heated competition of Thursday, Friday was a fun and relaxed catapult exhibition.  The events included a war between two lines of catapults, where they shot projectiles at each other, and if a catapult was struck by enemy projectile it was “destroyed” and eliminated from the battle.  Next came a contest for the displaying of marksmanship and a release of all student frustration, when the students replaced their typical projectiles with 60 raw eggs, which they then shot like a firing squad at their willing prisoner, Mr. Vore, all in the name of science.  Vore was simultaneously demonstrating safe experimentation to his students by wearing a paintball mask.  Despite the protection, a still enthused Vore admitted, “Sam Stavish hit me right in the forehead.”  Stavish, who not only had excellent aim on Friday, also won Second Place in Thursday’s events, proving worthy competition for Kaufhold along with Matt Francis and William Pittam, who both also tied for second place.
    Above all, the Artillery Competition serves multiple purposes as curriculum in Vore’s Physics class.  “One, it’s fun; you have to put something fun into the course.  I don’t want them just working with the textbook all the time. Two, I like it because it’s practical.  Rather than just being all paper and pencil, and calculator stuff, you actually have to pick up a hammer and nails, and screwdriver and actually make something with your actual two hands, which for a lot of the kids is like… you’ll get kids who get straight A’s on all the tests and all of a sudden they have to use a screwdriver and, ‘oh no! I don’t know what to do.’  Plus, some of the kids who aren’t the A’s on the tests, some of them are great with screwdrivers, so some of the kids on the lower end are great at it,” said Vore.  
    Aside from its classroom application, Vore’s own passion for catapult making has transitioned into his teaching.  “I like catapults!  When I was a kid I made catapults, I shot catapults, I had lots of fun doing catapults, so I guess this is a trip down memory lane for me,” said Vore, who also coached a Middle School Science Olympiad Team that won a Gold Medal for a Catapult Shooting event when he worked at Kunsmiller Middle School in Denver.  Vore enjoys the competition and believes his students do too. “I think they like it, especially the last part where they get to shoot eggs at the teacher.  They seem to enjoy that,” said Vore with a big smile.
    As for the winning student, Kaufhold thoroughly enjoyed the competition.  “The project involved two things I love, physics, and hard work. I’ll always remember this project.”