Wellington Middle School students set their sights high — hopefully, 100,000 feet high — that their weather balloon will reach the Stratosphere after its launch May 2. These talented kids, members of the 100K Team, have been working hard to design payloads designed to measure temperature and pressure changes as well as ultraviolet exposures at increasing altitude. Science teacher Vicky Jordan got the kids excited about the project and later was awarded a grant by LASP — the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

LASP selected Jordan’s proposal over seven competitors. Educational Coordinator Erin Wood said Jordan’s enthusiasm, clear ideas about sharing the student’s work, and her 100K science team already in place made her application stand out. “Now that we are working together, it’s inspiring to observe how devoted she is to her students! She really is a wonderful teacher, and we couldn’t pull off what we’re doing without her dedication,” Wood said.

The 100K Team/LASP collaboration is doing some amazing things. They have been using science, technology, engineering and math skills to conceive testable scientific questions, develop and test hardware, and even create a video to explain what they are doing to the rest of the school. Students communicated with LASP scientists by e-mail and video chats, then some scientists visited the school on two occasions for some hands-on help with the scientific and engineering process. One of the video chats was with Lars Kalnajs, a researcher studying the ozone hole over Antarctica.

“Not every researcher is comfortable in a room full of middle school students. Lars Kalnajs and (researcher) Pat Brown are perfect examples of people who are just great at this. Both are younger professionals as well,” Wood said. “Students can hopefully easily put themselves in their shoes.”

Jordan said she even got her retired-teacher husband Rick involved. When they were looking for a way to measure changing pressure with altitude, he suggested trying to incorporate an empty syringe. After some experimentation, including a student field trip to the LASP laboratories in Boulder to use their bell-jar vacuum chamber, they were able to come up with a workable design.

Next year, LASP will look at another round of proposals — perhaps even another from Wellington. Woods plans to sit down with Jordan and take what they have learned to apply it to another collection of bright, interested space enthusiasts. “I also hope Vicky and I can work together on future programs,” Wood said. “I would love to establish a closer relationship to the school, even if it’s not ballooning per se.”

In the student video Noah Ford reveals a fourth experiment.

“Just for fun,” he said, “we wanted to see if the pitch of sound changes as the air pressure and temperature change, so we are hanging a cowbell under the payload and we hope the GoPro camera will keep track of the sound of the bell.”

At the end of the video everyone jumps into the air and proudly declares, “Science is Fun!”

This project confirms that it truly is.

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