A Fling With Miss Young

Yet another tool for teachers

by Stephen Drew, AIR staff

Sometimes, students complain that physics is neither practical nor fun. That claim can be countered in many ways.

The real-life example described here shows that physics can indeed be practical. Even the most jaded student will enjoy using his or her analytical skills to better understand what, exactly, must have happened to Miss Stella Young.

EXAMPLE: Miss Stella Young

The trebuchet is a device -- generally a large device -- for flinging objects -- generally large objects -- into the sky and over the hills. Recently, Miss Stella Young used it to have herself "flung at 50mph from the medieval-style machine and bouncing out of the landing net." A full newspaper report appeared in the May 30, 2000 issue of The Telegraph. Here is a further excerpt.

Onlookers said that Stella Young, a member of the Dangerous Sports Club, hit the ground "like a sack of potatoes" and could have died if she had not landed on soft, muddy earth after overshooting the buffer zone of tyres designed to break the 15ft fall from the net.

Miss Young, 44, had put on body armour, a helmet and a Coldstream Guard's coat to be fired from the catapult 70ft into the air and 100ft across a field in Stogursey, Somerset, on Sunday afternoon.

The catapult, a wooden contraption based on trebuchets used in the Middle Ages to hurl rocks over castle walls during sieges, had been tested over many months by her boyfriend, Richard Wicks, and the club's secretary, David Aitkenhead.

The Telegraph goes into further detail, much of it fascinating.

Suggested Classroom Activities

Here are a few suggested activites for using Miss Young as a pedagogical tool.

Students will enjoy drawing detailed diagrams of the flight path, of the trebuchet, and of Miss Young. Students will enjoy deriving the kinematic equations that describe Miss Young's flight. Students will enjoy calculating the force which the trebuchet must have imparted to Miss Young, as well as the force which Miss Young must have imparted to the ground (and vice versa).

We here at the Annals of Improbable Research would enjoy seeing any especially accomplished reports that your students produce as a result of this mental exercise.

(Thanks to John Bell for bringing Miss Stella Young and her trebuchet to our attention.)

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