On Friday, April 20, Class 7 students traveled to Hohlt Park in Brenham, TX, to launch 33 science experiments to the stratosphere aboard four weather balloons. The balloons reached altitudes as high as 98,000 feet. While most came down near Conroe, one balloon traveled 160 miles and landed at the Texas/Louisiana border.
The project came about in December 2016 when the Class 7 science teachers, Ms. Gant and Mr. White, started chatting with the Middle School Technology Specialist, Dr. Hemenway, about the weather unit curriculum. The teachers wanted to make it more interesting and authentic, while adhering to the fundamental goal of the science program: for students to learn the scientific process, design experiments, identify variables, analyze data, and communicate results to a broader audience. After extensive research, the teachers chose to partner with Stratostar because students could further their study of weather while also developing their experimental design skills. By using weather balloons as a launch vehicle, the students were given the opportunity to collect data in conditions that would be difficult to replicate in the classroom.
Each balloon was launched with three payload boxes. One of the boxes handled the telemetry for the system. The other two boxes contained student-designed experiments from all fields of science, some of which included:
- Examining genetic mutations in bacteria exposed to high levels of UV radiation at altitude
- Measuring the electric generation performance of solar panels at different altitudes
- Sampling VOC levels in the different layers of the atmosphere
"We chose to work with Stratostar because, first of all, the prospect of launching weather balloons to 90,000 ft. is very interesting and awe-inspiring. More importantly, though, we were drawn to this project because it would give our students the chance to design their own scientific experiments and allow them to participate authentically in the scientific process, rather than just complete a lab from a textbook," said Mr. White. He also appreciated the support of Philip Cannon, who was "instrumental in going to bat for this project in order to secure the funds."