Physics students launch experiments with high altitude balloon


Rebekah Porter

Several students from Hays High and other schools that participated help fill the balloons with helium. After they filled up the balloon, they carefully let it up into the air.

Instructor Cheryl Shepherd-Adams’ Physics class launched two packages on a high altitude balloon on Dec. 14 at Gross Coliseum on Fort Hays State University’s campus. The two packages were designed by the students and contained equipment to observe radiation and the popping  of the balloon.

Shepherd-Adams let her class decide if they wanted to create the packages and gave them a window of one week to work on them. The class was then split up into two groups. The balloons were expected to reach approximately 80,000 feet, reaching the upper atmosphere.

Senior Benton McGrath’s group decided to test radiation with polaroid film.

McGrath said that they were hoping to find that there was more radiation present when there was less atmosphere to block the radiation. The radiation would show up on the film as little dots.

Among the things the second group wanted to record was the pressure in the atmosphere, and the force as the package fell on the ground.

Senior Josh Norris said that his group choose use a 3D printed box and pool noodles to absorb the hit, and a GoPro.

While the launching of the balloons was successful the actual flight was disappointing to the students.

McGrath said that the chase was pretty anti-climatic because while it was predicted to land near Dodge City, the balloon landed about 10 minutes south of Hays instead due to technical difficulties.

“It landed in the middle of the field, and wind started to drag it, and the boxes got caught in the barbed wire fence, which stopped it from getting tangled in the power lines across the road,” McGrath said.

When the students found the balloon they found that there were small holes in the balloon that had been expanding, causing the balloon to loose helium. Resulting in the balloon coming down early.

While the chase was not what the students were expecting, they were cheered up when a dog came up to them at the site of the balloon and allowed the students to pet her.

In January FHSU is providing another free flight to the students because of the equipment malfunction.

“My favorite part was watching the students’ excitement and witnessing them encountering and overcoming difficulties,” Shepherd-Adams. “Work schedules, Styrofoam fumes, 3D printer issues, handling film without exposing it; I’m convinced there’s nothing this group can’t do when they put their minds to it.”