Shoot for the Stars Setting the World Record for the highest launch from a Galilean Cannon

Who are we?

Hi, my name is Scott Buhr. I am the physics teacher at Hillcrest high school in Simpsonville, SC. I teach AP Physics to the students in the picture below. Physics is hard, something I say a lot, but these students are some of the best I've ever had, and have risen to the challenge of learning physics. We worked together this year to break a Guinness World Record. Follow the story below and then share with others to try to get us a shout out on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Extra Cheese Please! | Students ready to ace the AP Physics 1 Exam


During our unit on momentum, we found this 2016 video from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

In addition to this video, we found this Harvard physics problem of the week, written by David Morin, dealing with Galilean Cannons.

Seeing this video clip along with Morin's solution to the problem, we ran some numbers and determined that we could break the world record! So, we sent in an application on January 22nd, 2018 to Guinness World Records to attempt breaking this record.


Breaking a world record isn't easy.

After months of waiting, we finally heard back from Guinness World Records. They had accepted our application! All we needed to do was to break the record and provide evidence. Simple right?

To give you an idea of how rigorous the record-breaking process is, below are the requirements that were needed to break our record:

  • Surveyor's Report
  • Proof of Surveyor Qualifications
  • Slow motion footage of record action
  • Cover Letter
  • 2 Witness Statements
  • Photographic Evidence
  • Video Evidence

Here is a much fuller (33 pages) guide to the evidence we needed.

We first needed to know whether or not we could actually break the record. We tested our ideas a few weeks prior to breaking the record as well as the day of the record.

The Record

Brian Greene's Record is 9 meters.

The Cannon

We first attempted (and succeeded using our own measurements) to break the 9 m record using a stack of balls like the one you can see in this video by Diana Cowern, the physics girl.

While we were able to break the record with this set up, it was much harder to get just right. In our cannon below, you can see that we used a roll of tape to keep the middle ball from rolling around. Even with this addition, the stack was still pretty unstable!

Our first Galilean cannon
Top View

Since this version of the ball was too unruly, we decided to fall back on plan B which was to use a Galilean Cannon kit known as the "Astroblaster".

The Astroblaster

The attempt

In preparation for the attempt, we first had to secure the services of a surveyor along with two independent witnesses.


My father-in-law was able to put me in contact with Sam Harris, a local surveyor who graciously volunteered his time to this project. He came out to Hillcrest on two separate occasions to ensure that he had a deep understanding of what we were trying to accomplish. On the day of the launch he gave us 2.5 hours of his time and expertise!

Measuring our measurments

Guinness required that our attempt be done in the presence of two independent witnesses. I am so thankful for the time that Dr. Brian Vogt from the Bob Jones University Science Department, and Mr. Rick Dove, a local financial services professional, gave in observing and verifying our event!

Brian Vogt
Rick Dove

Breaking the record is one thing, getting the perfect shot that proves your broke the record is another.

While the surveryor and witnesses were measuring the student-made tape measure, my class and I began to practice our launch. We were blessed to have Kyle Gutschow, my brother-in-law, and his cousin Brian Smith operate their camera equipment for us. Kyle is very talented amateur photographer and Brian is skilled at capturing drone footage.

Once all the measurements were taken, the tape put in place, and the photographers ready, it was time to begin attempting to break the record. A student or I would stand on a small ladder and drop our cannon until we both broke the record of 9 meters and were able to capture photographic and video evidence. Dozens of drops can get very frustrating! Check out what a typical drop looked like along with what can happen to your head if you are the "dropper".

The new record

At last, after attempting many drops for nearly an hour, we finally got the perfect one! Take a look at the footage below! The red line on the tape measure was the current world record at the time.

This video shows what the record-setting drop looked like. It is almost impossible to see the ball.

You can see the ball around the 30 second mark in the video below.

In the next video, you can see how quickly the ball is moving. It appears near the dead center of the pole around the 2 second mark. It looks like a blur.

The following video shows the slow motion footage. You can see the ball at the red line around the 17 second mark.

You can see the red ball at the very top of this photo. It is still moving upward!

We did it! From the video, you can clearly see the ball rise above and beyond our highest tape measurement. We can only claim our highest measurement as the new record, so the new record for the highest launch from a Galilean Cannon is. . .

11.5 meters

Set by the 2017-18 AP Physics Class at Hillcrest High School in Simpsonville, SC

Happy Record-setters

"Officially Amazing"

On September 2nd, 2018 (Labor Day) I received an email from Guinness World Records that our record was approved and officially accepted! Check out this screenshot from their website:

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

It is a dream of my students to get a shout out from Stephen Colbert, a native South Carolinian and host of The Late Show.

Help us get a shout out by sharing this page as much as you can on social media! Use #lssc to spread the word!

Colbert is a huge supporter of public education. He is on the board of directors for DonorsChoose.org, an organization that has benefited my classroom on several occasions.

Here are the sponsors who have financially supported my classroom with projects in the past.

3M, Duke Energy, Dr. Jamie Valentine, and Horace Mann have all contributed to educational projects in my classroom.

Help Us Spread the Word!

Share this page on social media as much as you can, and let's see if we can get this class a shout out on The Late Show!

Created By
Scott Buhr


Created with images by Kyle Gregory Devaras - "stars in the sky" • arielrobin - "measure yardstick tape ruler measure measure measure" • Slava Keyzman - "Sky Ball"

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