With the release of the new Angry Birds movie this summer, I thought it would be a fine time for our scientists to revisit a classic program: catapults.
What is a catapult? At its most basic, and catapult can be defined as a device used to launch a projectile a great distance without the aid of explosive devices. Catapults come in a variety of designs. They can be something as simple as a slingshot (and some modern slingshots even come with trigger activated cameras!); or they can be as complex as a trebuchet. Even modern aircraft carriers have used a version of a steam-powered catapult to launch jets from aircraft carriers on the water.
Before we began creating our own catapults, I showed a series of fun videos to inspire our scientists and get us in the mood for creating our own devices. We watched…
A short segment from an Angry Birds TV episode
A YouTube video of some gentlemen creating and testing, in their own words, “the world’s largest slingshot”
One of my favorite catapult animation discoveries on YouTube of a sneaky grasshopper and the ladybug who teaches him a lesson
And some gentlemen in the United Kingdom who created a giant trebuchet and tested it by throwing a car, a piano, and even some explosives.
I provided several examples and projects for the scientists to complete, using some very basic supplies: toilet paper tubes, rubber bands, plastic spoons and forks, Q-tips, craft sticks (large and small), buttons, straws, etc. In addition to scotch tape and electrical tape, I also provided hot glue guns to help quickly assemble some of our more complicated devices. Below are the projects I provided as templates for our builders – some wanted to build every single project, some selected a favorite model and made modifications, and some scientists had their own ideas about how they wanted to create/design a catapult right away.
PROJECT #1: Pompom Slingshot (PBS Kids Go! Design Squad)
The link above takes you to the instructions for building this design on PBS Kids Go! Design Squad. I will say that my hole-puncher created holes that were just a little too small to insert a pencil, so I used lollipop sticks instead. Ultimately, we felt that this device was a little cumbersome to fire, and the projectiles did not travel very far. But it was fun to assemble!
PROJECT #2: Craft Stick Crossbow (steampoweredfamily.com)
This was the project that everyone wanted to do, but it was also a bit cumbersome to actually use (follow the link above for the full instructions). This was also the project that needed the glue guns the most. The real trick with this project is that in order to fire the Q-tip projectile, you need to pull back the rubber band AND hold the bottom edge of the Q-tip at the same time before releasing. I also personally felt that the straw guide on the top of the model prevented the user from getting the best distance (it doesn’t allow you to pull back the projectile as far as you might be able to). But, it was another one that was definitely fun to build!
PROJECT #3: Craft Stick Catapult Using Bottle Cap (Scientific American)
PROJECT #4: Craft Stick Catapult Using Plastic Spoon/Fork (DevinCollier.com)
Both of these craft stick catapult projects use the same basic design, with one difference. For Project #3, we simple hot glue a bottle cap to the top of one of the sticks to hold our projectiles (I used bottle caps from water bottles I was going to recycle at the market). For Project #4, you attack a spoon or fork to one of your craft sticks, using rubber bands, before you do the complete assembly. I feel like both of these models gave the best results in our test range firing at our Angry Bird target.
Several of our scientists created their own designs. From experience, I learned that marshmallows and a carpeted floor are a disaster waiting to happen, so I always use pompoms for our projectiles. They may not travel as far (since they are lighter weight), but the cleanup goes a LOT easier on us all 🙂 All of our scientists happily went home with their creations and instructions to complete projects at home in the future.