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What is catapult and how does it work?

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A catapult is a lever, a stick, or a beam propped up by a fulcrum (pivoting point). A lever will magnify the force that you put on it. The catapult magnifies your force to throw a object. The larger the force the further the object goes.

Catapults have been integral to siege warfare since antiquity. Though ancient Catapults were one of the most effective weapons in siege warfare. Various types of Catapults have been used by the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. The first catapults were early attempts to increase the range and power of a crossbow. Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian, was the first to document the use of a mechanical arrow firing catapult (early Ballista) in 399 BC. Catapults as we think of them were introduced to Europe during the Middle Ages. Catapults made their exhibition in England in 1216 during the Siege of Dover, the French crossed the Channel and were the first to use Catapults on English soil. With war prevalent throughout Europe during the Middle Ages the popularity of fortified castle and city wall rose significantly. This made Catapults an essential, catapults were used to launch missiles (many different objects were utilized). These missiles were either launched directly at the wall to cause maximum damage to the fortifications or were launched over the wall to lay siege on the population within the protective walls. Catapults were also used to throw missiles at soldiers. The first accounted acts of Biological Warfare involved catapults. Catapults were used extensively throughout Europe (predominantly by the French) until 885-886 AD when new defense systems rendered catapults ineffective.

Physics of catapults and history of catapults

The entire catapulting process depends on the storing of potential energy as tension (of ropes or wooden arm) or gravitational potential energy. Pull the arm back (rope in case of Ballista)

Place missiles in bucket, sling, or nook

Release potential energy. Work is done on the arm. Arm collides with with base and is brought to an abrupt stop. Missiles retain the kinetic energy from the work done on the arm. This kinetic energy launches the missiles at the target. Levers are made up of 3 parts, a fulcrum – the point at which the lever pivots or turns, the load – the stuff you are trying to move, the force – the effort it takes to move the load A Lever allows you to move a large load using a small amount of effort. The further the effort (or force) is from the fulcrum, the easier a lever is to move. Therefore generally long levers work best and usually can turn a small effort into a much larger one. There are 3 classes or types of lever: class 1 lever This is where the fulcrum is between the effort and the load, e.g. a see saw. If you push down on one end (effort) it will raise the load on the other end. class 2 lever In this case the load is between the fulcrum and the effort, e.g. a wheelbarrow. You pull up on the handles (effort) to raise the load in the middle and the wheel (fulcrum) is at the end. class 3 lever The effort is between the fulcrum and the load, e.g. a fishing rod. One hand acts as the pivot (fulcrum), the other hand is placed in the middle of the rod and pulls (effort) and the fish (load) is hanging off the end.

These scientists saw that a lever lets you do a lot of easy work instead of doing a little bit of hard work. If you’re trying to lift a heavy rock one foot off the ground (against Earth gravity), you might not be able to lift it at all. But if you have a lever – a long stick – you can get a mechanical advantage. You can push the lever down pretty easily, but you have to move it down four feet in order to lift the rock one foot. You’ve done a lot of easy work (pushing down for four feet) instead of a little hard work (pulling up for one foot). It’s the same amount of work, in the end, but spread out more.

Some modern examples of levers are using a hammer to pull out a nail, using a bottle-opener to open a beer bottle, using a screwdriver to pry the lid off a can of paint, a pair of scissors, using a balance scale to weigh things, and playing on a see-saw (teeter-totter). Can you identify the fulcrum in each of these examples? (Hint: it varies, because there are three different kinds of levers).

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