Northampton students use potatoes to study projective motion

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EASTERN SHORE POST/ADOLPHUS AMES Northampton teacher Chase Baxa loads the potato launcher.

BY ADOLPHUS AMES, Eastern Shore Post

A group of Northampton High School students gathered near the Yellow Jackets’ softball field Wednesday morning for an experiment — how far they could launch potatoes using cannons made from PVC pipes.

Chase Baxa, who teaches physics and biology at Northampton, was instrumental in the development of the project. Baxa is no stranger to creating launchers for physics class.

“When I was in high school, we created launchers using air cannons,” he said. “I did it again during my student teaching. I wanted to do something similar with my students, but with a combustion element.”

Creating the potato launchers was a community effort that took a little over a week and a half. Supplies were funded and donated by the Northampton County Education Foundation and Onancock Building Supply. 

The students used the supplies to make the launchers and three targets to hit. The targets resembled Sonic the Hedgehog, the Yellow Jacket mascot, and Albert Einstein.

The physics students also turned to Billy Davis’ carpentry class to build a cannon holder. The holder allowed the cannon operator to change the launch angle from 30 degrees to 45 degrees or 60 degrees. Starting fluid was used to fuel the launchers.

During the launch, students used a timer to record how long the potato soared through the air. Then they used the recorded time alongside the angle of the launch to calculate how fast the potatoes traveled through the air.

“It’s the perfect project for studying projectile motion,” said Baxa. “It’s also a great way to blow off some steam.”

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