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The Citadel, Google team up for trebuchet competition

Charleston Post and Courier
February 23, 2011

How do you get young people interested in science, technology, engineering and math careers?

The Citadel and Google think you let them build trebuchets, which look much like ancient catapults, and launch oranges across Summerall Field.

A group of Citadel cadets who will participate in a weekend trebuchet competition tested their device Tuesday afternoon. The first orange they flung didn’t go very far, another flew backwards. But they adjusted the weight that makes the arm swing and launch the orange. Before long, they were launching oranges more than 100 feet.

Cadet Aaron Lee, a junior, said it took his team about 30 hours to build its trebuchet. And the competition gives team members an opportunity to use what they learned in class.

Teams from 13 high schools, The Citadel and some corporations, including Google, have signed up to participate in the competition, which will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday on the campus.

Jeff Stevenson, a Google program manager and 1991 graduate of The Citadel, said the company is sponsoring the event to demonstrate to young people how careers in science, technology, engineering and math can be interesting. Professionals in those careers are needed in the Lowcountry and nationwide, he said.

Google wants to show young people that “this is cool stuff,” he said. “We’re looking to breed excitement.”

And Google employees will do their part to add to the excitement.

The Google team will dress in pirate gear, consistent with the theme of their offices in Goose Creek. And they are bringing two special trebuchets for demonstrations. One is very large, much bigger than the 6-feet-tall ones that will be used in the competition, and the Google team will hurl something big a great distance with it, he said.

The other demonstration trebuchet is “blue-tooth enabled,” he said. And the team will launch it using an Android phone.

Saturday’s event was inspired by an annual “Punkin Chuckin” contest in Delaware, where competitors used a variety of methods to launch pumpkins across a field, Stevenson said.

Dennis Fallon, dean of The Citadel School of Engineering, said the military college is committed to promoting science, technology, engineering and math careers, especially for young women and minority youth.

And the high school students who participate in Saturday’s event will learn a lot, he said. They will work as a team to build and use their trebuchet. And they will grasp engineering concepts as they learn how to manipulate and control the device, he said.

Stevenson said in such competitions, students don’t realize until later that they have learned scientific concepts. They simply think they’re having fun.

Fallon said he’s looking forward to Saturday. “It’s going to be great,” he said. “We’re going to have oranges going every which way.”

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