Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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Dr. Flaten Flies Weather Balloon with Middle School Students

Dr. James Flaten - Associate Director of the MN Space Grant and contract faculty in AEM - and his summer "ballooning team" worked with students from two Bloomington middle schools as they designed experiments to be flown in several payloads carried by a weather balloon into the stratosphere. Several of the experiments involved seeds that would be exposed to cosmic radiation at heights of 90,000 to 100,000 feet. The students also made measurements of conditions like temperature and pressure, and even flew cameras to document the view.

"Will [the seeds] germinate at different rates? Will they grow at different rates?" wonders Olson Middle School Teacher Adam Kimpton, who worked with his eighth graders to secure their payloads.

Dr. Flaten and his team of college students helped to inflate the balloon, release it, and then chase it down once it reached altitude and popped. At this point, the payloads containing the experiments would drop to the earth by parachute, hopefully withstanding the impact. Flaten's team of students monitored the balloon with GPS signals sent via radio, and eventually found it in a tree about a hundred miles away from the launch site.

"High-altitude ballooning is a great fit for these classes of gifted middle school students as they look for ways to expand beyond the typical science curriculum," said Flaten. "This flight was their first step toward establishing a weather-ballooning program in the Bloomington school district and both the teachers and the students learned a lot."

The experiment was filmed by KARE 11 News, and can be viewed online at their website:

View looking down from balloon at launch & Some students with their payloads after recovery.

Last Modified: 2014-06-04 at 12:08:46 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation