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  • Near Space BallooningBy Keith Harrison
    Engineering Physics and Robotics Teacher
    Cherry Creek High School

    keith Harrison

    There is something awe inspiring about making a machine that will go somewhere inaccessible to most people on the planet. The simple act of inflating, then letting go of, a thin latex balloon, achieves this feat. Then add a few scientific bells and whistles and you can bring back all kinds of interesting information from the balloon's journey to near space.

    I teach Engineering Physics at Cherry Creek High School. This course involves a lot of building, testing, and lab work, so when I learned about the opportunity to fly a weather balloon with a student-designed payload, I jumped at the chance. It has since become one of the highlights of my students' year.

    The fascination with space tends to take hold on the day of the launch, when students finally see their hard work accelerate into the sky. Weeks before the launch, the project is engaging for its ability to bring an entire class together for a single goal. Although the entire project can, if necessary, be conducted by as few as four or five students, it can also be designed to involve a typical class of up to thirty. I establish teams to install and operate cameras, design and build electronic circuits with sensors (usually with Arduino), learn and rehearse launch day procedures, retrieve the payload once it's landed (this is a favorite), and analyze and present data after the flight.

    Weather balloon projects allow students to learn and practice engineering skills in the context of an authentic enterprise that takes place in their own neighborhood and community. Information obtained from the payload can be shared with the rest of the school to enrich lessons in geography, physics, chemistry, and environmental science.

    All in all, this is an excellent opportunity for student learning and engagement. Even the sky, in this case, is not the limit!

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