Physics Catapult Competition

Event Description:

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Teams of two or three people will build a catapult which is designed to throw a softball as far as possible.


  1. Catapult must have an arm designed to throw the ball. A sling may be used maximize throwing potential, but slingshot devices are not permitted.
  2. When cocked, your catapult must fit inside a 3m x 3m “launch box” that will be drawn on the ground.
  3. When cocked, your catapult must be no taller than 2 meters.
  4. Your catapult must have a triggering mechanism which will allow you to stand outside the launch box.
  5. No explosions or air pressure may be used to assist the performance of your catapult.  In other words, the energy used to power your catapult must be provided by the device itself.
  6. Your catapult must be able to be cocked by one person.
  7. You may use the Interactive Physics programs installed on classroom computers to design and optimize your launch device. A step-by-step tutorial on building a simple trebuchet in Interactive Physics is included at right for your reference.


Each group will be allowed three launches. The best launch will be used as your score.  The longest launch wins.


Your catapult must be dropped off at the staging area prior to the start of school on launch day and completely removed from the competition grounds by 3:30 p.m. on that same day.


Your group is to measure the amount of time your projectile is in the air using a stopwatch. Based on this information, as well as the horizontal distance traveled by your projectile, calculate the initial velocity imparted to the projectile by your catapult.


Submit your answers to the following questions on the Catapult Score Sheet. You may answer #1 as a team. Answers to questions 2-5 should be your own.

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  1. Analyze your projectile's motion:
    1. How far did your projectile travel horizontally?
    2. How long was your projectile in the air?
    3. What was your projectile's horizontal velocity?
    4. How long did it take your projectile to reach its maximum height?
    5. What was your projectile's initial vertical velocity?
    6. What was your projectile's total initial velocity?
    7. What was your projectile's launch angle?
  2. How did undertaking this project improve your understanding of projectile motion?
  3. How did you feel about this project when it was first assigned?
  4. How do you feel about this project now that it has concluded?
  5. What would you have done differently as you and your team worked through this project?

Student Reflections:

  • At first I was overwhelmed to say the least. Now I'm very proud of myself and feel like this project gave me more confidence as a physics student. Anything is possible if I just believe in myself. I liked this project, and it really got us to work together.
  • It was a fun project to do with friends that also taught us a lot about not just projectile motion, but teamwork, construction, and other physics. It also made me feel accomplished.
  • The project was awesome. It was so cool building something.
  • I feel as though I really tested my creativity skills and I'm actually shocked that I was able to make a functioning catapult.
  • I'm glad I did it because I learned many new things related to projectile motion and tools.
  • Launch day was probably the most fun I've had this school year so far.
  • At first I was really scared and didn't think I would be able to complete this assignment. I really liked this project. I think we should do more projects like this!
  • At first I thought I was set up for failure. Now that it's over, it was fun and much easier than I expected.
  • Initially I felt nervous because of the lack of instructions. Now I feel that I can solve problems without the instruction of my teacher.
  • I'm shocked I could construct a fully functioning catapult with my own design.
  • It was very fun, even if our catapult didn't win. it was a great brain teaser and an excellent way to apply lessons from class.
  • Honestly, I was very overwhelmed when this project was assigned. I had no clue that I was capable of building a catapult. Now, I realize I am capable of more than I thought I was.
  • I felt overwhelmed and nervous because I didn't know how to use tools. Now I am really proud of myself.
  • I feel great about this project. It worked out amazingly and ours went farther than we ever thought we could build a catapult to launch.
  • This project gave me the confidence I need to build other things because I know with effort I can complete a difficult task.
  • Seeing what the other groups put together was fascinating and made it an even better competition. It was a great experience to apply physics to a real life problem, and to see our errors and what needs to be fixed.
  • Now that the project is finished I realized that for being a girl I am actually pretty handy with building things. It was fun thinking of ways to make the softball go far.
  • I thought it was going to be way too hard... [building the catapult] gave me a great sense of accomplishment.
  • Even though it [the launched projectile] didn't go anywhere, we had fun building it together. We learned a lot about motion and physics during the process.
  • I feel that with the ample time allowed to do the project as well as the online support it went awesome. It created an opportunity for me to expand my thinking and apply physics to a real life problem. I hope to do another one soon.
  • It was awesome!!! So much fun!
  • I'm excited that without any instruction, we were able to design and build a functional catapult.
  • This project emphasized the importance of launch angle in determining horizontal distance. I realize that now there are so many resources available to students on the Internet... it was a team-building hands-on, physics-related endeavor.
  • I was really scared and doubted I could build anything on my own. Now that the project has concluded, I feel proud. Even though our catapult didn't go very far, my teammate and I designed it ourselves and I think it looks pretty awesome, duct tape and all.
  • I feel great because our group set a new record for the school.
  • I feel very proud of myself for planning and building a catapult with my group. it was a great way to use my physics skills in a real-life problem.
  • This project shows that nothing is impossible, even if it may sound difficult at first.
  • At first, I honestly thought that there was no way I'd be able to do this. Now, I'm sure I'll be able to use my new-found knowledge in the future. I'm proud of myself for accomplishing this project.
  • Now that it's over, I miss it. I love working hands on and applying math where it is needed.
  • I am proud that I made such a wonderful catapult with my group members. The project truly helped me understand projectiles and kinematic equations.
  • I really enjoyed the project and had a lot of fun with it. This project helped me understand the angle at which the projectile was launched really played a key role in how far the projectile goes.
  • At first, I was clueless on how to start because we weren't given that many directions and I didn't know how to build a catapult. Now that the project is completed, I feel very happy about how things worked out. We were able to build a catapult that could actually launch things pretty far.
  • The project put a real life situation in front of us where we found we could use what we learned in class... I really enjoyed this project because it was so practical. Also I had an amazing partner to work with that made it even better.
  • When this was first assigned I was overwhelmed. Now that it has concluded, it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be.
  • I felt scared at first because there was little direction. It was a lot of work, but I had a great time with it.
  • This project is fantastic! It really helps grasp the topic of projectile motion.
  • It was easier than I thought.
  • I couldn't believe [the instructor] didn't give us any directions... it made me mad! I can't believe we actually got it done... I'm also really proud of our distance.
  • What it was first assigned, I thought that there was no way I could do this project. After this project, I felt so accomplished and that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.
  • I felt a little overwhelmed in the beginning because I had no idea how to build a catapult. Now that the project is concluded I feel very proud of myself because we actually built a catapult all by ourselves.
  • At first I thought that it was going to be difficult to build, now I feel like it was a success and I feel accomplished to say I built a catapult.
  • At first I was nervous. I feel accomplished, our catapult launched a good distance and I am happy with our work.
  • I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult than it was. I feel it was a great experience: it was fun to build, fun to launch, and it showed me that physics is involved with a lot of things in life.
  • I feel like it was a fun experience and only wish I had the resources to build a bigger, more advanced catapult.
  • It helped me understand why projectiles travel the way that they do and how to predict the motion of projectiles based on things like launch angle, launch speed, and the force put on the projectile. I'm also proud that we had the only working firing safety mechanism in the class.
  • It was fun but harder than I expected. I enjoyed the team building and bonding, but all the food in my house is gone.
  • I feel proud and happy that my group was successful and had fun together.
  • At first I thought there was no way to make a good catapult, but we worked together and made the farthest-shooting catapult in the class. It feels good to accomplish this assignment.
  • At first the project seemed overwhelming. Once I started working on it and doing research it was fun.
  • I feel that this was a good way to better understand projectile motion. You can't understand something fully without your own knowledge of it.
  • I thought this was a great project to apply my knowledge of physics.
  • This project improved my understanding of projectile motion by making me take what I learned and apply it to a real-life situation.
  • Now that the project is over, I feel a great sense of accomplishment because I built this on my own with no help. I feel I learned a lot about projectile motion.
  • I was excited to start and figure it out, but petrified because I'd never built anything like a catapult. I'm glad I conquered it.
  • I recognize that I can be an even better leader and communicate with my partners effectively.
  • At first I felt overwhelmed, but now I feel like I accomplished something. I feel like building this taught me a lot about myself.
  • I felt scared initially. It was a great experience and I'm proud.
  • This project made the pieces come together for me. It was more fun than I expected and showed me that I know more about projectile motion than I expected.
  • I felt like it was going to be very difficult and take a long time to complete, but it ended up being easier than I thought because I had great group members. I feel good that we were able to complete such a task.
  • I thought it would be interesting and fun to make a catapult, but I wasn't sure I could make a catapult that would work. Now I feel like it was a success, and we did well.
  • At first I felt like it would be impossible for me to build a catapult, I was very overwhelmed. Now I feel good about myself and my teammates.
  • I'm proud of our catapult because we did our best and did a good job.
  • I feel like it was a great learning experience and if I had a chance I would do it again and try to get better results.
  • This project helped me realize how vertical and horizontal motion are completely separated from each other. Now that we have finished, I feel that it went well over all, but I would like to try again to improve the distance.
  • This project helped me understand projectile motion because actually seeing the softball get launched made finding launch angles and velocities make so much more sense than reading a problem. I was terrified when we first got the assignment. Now I am really proud of our group for making a catapult that actually worked.
  • I feel really good about my project. When we finished, I was in shock! The night we finished, we were giving each other high fives, we were so happy we had created it!
  • I feel proud that I completed it and it was successful.
  • I now understand how to apply physics to a real-life situation.
  • It was a fun project and a great feeling to build something that functions well from the ground up.
  • It was awesome to see how successful we were.
  • I'm proud of myself and actually had fun doing it. I feel accomplished.
  • Now that the project has concluded, it was very fun. I would definitely say it was a highlight of school this year so far.
  • I thought the project would be a lot harder and more complicated than it was.
  • I feel relieved and successful now that this project is done. It was not as difficult as I thought it would be.
  • Now that it's over, I thought that the project was able to teach me a lot of things that I otherwise wouldn't have learned.
  • I feel this project helped me learn more and wasn't that hard.
  • I feel proud about the project now that it is complete.
  • I am more confident than I was at the beginning of the project.
  • Now that the project has concluded I feel great. I was very proud of my group because all our hard work paid off. It was fun and frustrating at the same time. When things wouldn't work and you had to keep altering them until they worked it was frustrating, but after you finished it, you felt accomplished. I learned a lot more about projectile motion.
  • It was a good project and a fun experience. My group and I were able to have a fun time while working on our project.
  • It was a lot of fun even though ours didn't go very far.
  • I feel that this project was very fun and we have learned a lot about how to work in a group.
  • I enjoyed the project and liked that it was hands on.
  • I feel that the project was very fun and ours came out very good.
  • I feel like we really accomplished something.
  • This project was awesome! I had so much fun building and designing the catapult. We even had the furthest distance in the class.
  • I want to do it again. I could make it better.
  • It was fun to troubleshoot and work out how to solve the issues we had when testing our catapult. I ultimately enjoyed it and loved seeing the different trials we would do and how our launch improved after very launch. The whole process was exciting, starting from nothing and coming as far as we did.
  • I thought it was a cool and fun project for the class.
  • It put projectile motion into a real-world situation. I'm proud of myself and my group for completing it. It wasn't as hard as a I thought it would be.
  • I now know that launching a projectile as far as possible requires the right launch angle.
  • At first I was very scared. Now I feel very accomplished and happy that my group could build a catapult.
  • I'm proud of the work we all did, it was a great learning experience.
  • At first I thought it was going to be impossible. Now I realize that nothing is impossible. I know that even with the littlest direction I'll be able to achieve anything.
  • I thought that this was a fun project & a great learning experience!
  • This project was so much fun to do and I loved building the catapults with all the freedom we had.
  • Now that it's over I feel relieved but also proud of myself for building something that I had never done anything like before.
  • I was nervous at first... [now] I'm proud with how our catapult turned out and I feel good about the results.
  • I feel proud and happy that we managed to build a working catapult with a very limited budget and materials.
  • I think this was one of the most fun projects I have ever done.
  • It was a great experience and I felt like I had accomplished something and I am proud.
  • I had a lot of fun and would like to do more projects like this.
  • Initially I was nervous because I didn't think a month was long enough for this project, but once we started I realized it wasn't bad at all.
  • I feel I learned a lot and am more comfortable with projectile motion.
  • I was a little overwhelmed at first but once I did some research and got started it wasn't too bad. It was fun and cool getting to connect the catapult back to physics.
  • At first I felt overwhelmed and nervous because I wasn't sure what we were going to do or how to make it. Now I am proud of the catapult and all of the work we put into it.
  • I gained confidence in myself because now I know I can build something as complicated as a catapult by using my knowledge of projectile motion and my partners' ideas. It teaches many life lessons like perseverance and determination. I want to do another project like this soon.
  • I am very proud of the work my team and I put into this catapult.
  • It was fun and a good learning experience.
  • I'm so happy, I enjoyed the process and I can understand the motion questions.
  • It was really fun brain storming ideas and building it (the catapult). Launch day was especially fun.
  • It was a lot easier than I thought and it was fun to see how we could work together to create the catapult.
  • I'm really happy about this project, I had fun making it and it helps me visualize how projectile math works.
  • The experience was great!
  • I really enjoyed this project and would recommend continuing it in the upcoming years.
  • I'm happy we did it and had so much success with it.
  • It was fun to work as a team and it was exciting to see our catapult launch.
  • I feel very proud that my group was able to build a catapult that worked.
  • I enjoyed this project more than I thought I would and I wish we could go back after testing and fix the problems we found to further improve on the catapults.
  • At first I was scared. now I think it was a really cool project and fun to watch everyone's catapults and have our be pretty successful.

Catapults 2011

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