Softball, popsicle sticks to help determine grades

CEDARVILLE — A softball is dropped from two stories and crashes into almost 200 popsicle sticks. Sounds like demolition, rather than competition. But two Cedarville professors have figured out a way to push student learning through this constructive, and potentially destructive, exercise in physics.

Dr. Cherish Lesko, adjunct professor of engineering, and Dr. Thomas Thompson, professor of mechanical engineering, are running this annual event, the crowning activity of their dynamics course 3 p.m. Friday, April 13, in Cedarville’s engineering and science building atrium.

Students are tasked with this unique challenge: create a ball catcher made of 165 popsicle sticks, 1.25 ounces of Elmer’s Glue-All and four rubber bands. Their task is to catch a double-weighted softball dropped from 15 feet. The lightest weight structure that catches the ball wins the prize.

“These students design effective ball catchers using the least material possible,” Thompson said. “However, there are always unexpected things that happen in design and sometimes people with good ideas have a design that fails. This competition creates a positive and encouraging environment that emphasizes the learning experience and cooperation of the team.”

This year, 25 teams of students are competing in the fun and challenging event, which comprises 10 percent of the students’ grades in this course. The winning team will be awarded a prize and certificate for creativity and engineering design.

“To stop the ball, strain energy (the energy that a material absorbs when it is deformed), friction, stretching rubber bands, and even splashing wet glue have been tried — however, due to rule changes, some things have only been tried once,” Thompson said. “In the end, prizes are awarded, and recognition is even given to the ‘Most Spectacular Failure.’ Overall, the emphasis is on this as a positive, team-building learning experience.”