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Pumpkin drops turn out to be educational at Carnegie Science Center

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Visitors to the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore will get a blast out of using liquid nitrogen to blow up pumpkins at the annual Pumpkin Smash event.
Cory Fields, 12, of Penn Hills, heaves a pumpkin off of the roof of the Carnegie Science Center, Saturday, November 3rd, 2012. The activity was part of the Great Pumpkin Smash event at the North Shore attraction. Visitors were invited to throw their Halloween pumpkins off the roof and were also treated to a science demonstration on pressure and temperature change which resulted in exploding jack-o-lanterns. In 1893, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the question of whether the pumpkin is a fruit or a vegetable, and ruled that plants consumed as part of the main course shall be considered a vegetable, while plants consumed as appetizers, desserts, or out of hand shall be considered fruits. So, botanically speaking, a pumpkin is a fruit, however, under tariff regulations many countries classify the pumpkin as a vegetable. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

Dropping pumpkins from 80 feet and exploding them into orange chunks that hurtled through the air was certainly entertaining Saturday, but staff at the Carnegie Science Center also managed to sneak in a bit of education as well.

“I learned how fast a pumpkin will go so you can see how big a splat it will make,” said Haiden Hunter, 7, a third-grader at Ben Franklin Elementary School in the Bethel Park School District.

The North Shore Science Center hosted its first Pumpkin Smash, in which young visitors dropped more than 50 pumpkins off the center's roof.

Staff then showed how they could calculate the velocity of the pumpkin, using gravity and time.

Most of the pumpkins, said Brad Peroney, program development coordinator at the center, reached about 50 miles an hour before shattering on the ground below, creating a mound of pumpkin remains that will be composted.

As they hit the ground, children standing nearby would laugh.

“We're showing them that, hey, science isn't so boring after all,” Peroney said.

Mike Hennessey, another program development coordinator, and some helpers provided the highlight of the day.

They exploded several pumpkins into flying debris as children laughed and cheered.

“I learned how you can make a pumpkin explode using liquid nitrogen,” said Nathan Ruffin, 8, a third-grader in Wadsworth, Ohio, who watched the demonstrations along with his father, Scott.

Hennessey loaded plastic water bottles with super-cooled liquid nitrogen to show that, when the bottle was lowered into warm water inside the pumpkin, the nitrogen would expand.

On Hennessey's first try, the top of the bottle shot off with a loud crack, but the pumpkin stayed intact.

“This pumpkin is more formidable than we thought,” Hennessey joked.

On the second try, however, children, who covered their ears to protect them from the loud noise, squealed in delight as the pumpkin erupted into hundreds of pieces that flew up to 30 yards away.

Hennessey said there are some practical applications for some of the demonstrations Saturday.

Hennessey said engineers used concentrated hydrogen peroxide to provide thrust for a Russian Soyuz carrier rocket last year.

At the Science Center, he combined hydrogen peroxide and copper chloride with liquid dishwashing soap, to create a volcanic flow of smelly green foam that oozed from of one pumpkin.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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