The use of catapults can be traced to the Greeks, Romans and Chinese more than 2,000 years ago. They were particularly popular during the Middle Ages as a way to launch projectiles over the walls of forts and castles. The catapult mechanism, also known as a lever, was, and still is, used to lift and move objects. If you have ever tossed a ball or played on a seesaw you have experienced the power of a lever.
A catapult is a great way to model energy transfer and show that an object will keep moving if it can. It reveals the role physics plays in sports and physical games, and makes clear the importance of seatbelts in cars: When the catapult arm stops moving, the crumpled paper projectile keeps going.
OK, let’s play. You can build your own tossing game from newspaper and tape. Here’s how to make a catapult launcher and a basket target.