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Pumpkins meet physics in annual pumpkin drop

Each October, Boston University freshmen find out pumpkins aren’t just for carving &- they’re also for teaching students about explosive energy.

Friday afternoon, members of BU’s physics community dropped 45 pumpkins from the roof of the Metcalf Center for Science and Engineering in celebration of the sixth annual Pumpkin Drop.

After the first pumpkin had been hurled from the Metcalf roof, the plaza was covered with pumpkin innards, pastel paint, pudding, flour and other substances the vegetable had been filled with prior to the drop.

“The pumpkins were filled with whipped topping, fluorescent washable paint, and some had flour,” said Courtney Clark, the undergraduate program coordinator of BU’s Physics Department and the organizer of this year’s Pumpkin Drop.

“We left the largest ones natural,”she said.

Booming cheers erupted from the multitude of onlookers as one by one, each of the 45 pumpkins met their fate.

Depending on their size and the type of concoction they held, some pumpkins landed with a bigger bang than others.

A canvas sheet was placed on the plaza to receive the pumpkins. In years past, these canvases were put on display in BU’s physics office.

The story of airborne pumpkins, however, is not unique to BU. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology and a number of other universities join BU in hurling Halloween’s sacred squash.

Clark said the tradition’s entertaining factor sparked its startup at BU.

“We thought it would be a fun thing to do around Halloween,” she said.

Amusing an audience with exploding fruit, however, is not the sole purpose of BU’s Pumpkin Drop.

“There’s an educational part,” Clark said.

The pumpkins pitched off Metcalf were recorded for the entirety of their fall and used to demonstrate the parabolic path that falling objects follow, Clark explained.

The transfer of energy from potential to kinetic to explosive was taught through the falling pumpkins as well.

Brainpower also played a part in the attendees’ attempts to correctly guess the weight of the largest pumpkin.

This year’s biggest pumpkin weighed in at 45.2 pounds. Like its counterparts, its end was a dramatic and highly anticipated one, Clark said.

Though already impressive in size at more than 45 pounds, organizers want to get an even larger pumpkin for next year’s event, she said.

Clark said that along with dropping a larger pumpkin, other transformations are in the works for Pumpkin Drop 2011.

“We have big plans for changing things up next year,” she said.

Something to look forward to, Clark said, was the possibility of a pulley device to raise the pumpkins from the plaza and onto the roof.

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