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UMM physics students launch scientific balloon

University of Minnesota, Morris Professor Gordon McIntosh (left) and UMM students prepare to launch a scientific balloon on the UMM campus. Photo by Natalie Johnson, UMM News Service.

On a cold November morning, University of Minnesota, Morris Professor Gordon McIntosh's Experimental Physics class launched the first-ever scientific balloon at UMM.

Carefully attached in Styrofoam boxes or "pods," data collection equipment captured information for student experiments as the balloon ascended to nearly 90,000 feet and traveled more than 70 miles.

Increasing in size as it rose, the 10-foot balloon grew to 30 feet in diameter before it exploded and floated to the ground by parachute, landing in a tree.

The students gathered a variety of data via the scientific balloon. The attached equipment in the pods measured the function of altitude on temperature, pressure, carbon dioxide, radioactivity, skylight polarization, skylight colors, ultra violet light and the speed of sound. A video camera recorded the balloon's journey. The students used a software program to predict the balloon's flight path in order to plan for its recovery.

"The students have worked very hard to understand the science behind their projects and to implement their experiments," McIntosh said.

McIntosh attended a workshop last summer at Taylor College to prepare for introducing scientific balloons into physics coursework at Morris. James Flatten, former Morris colleague and now associate director of the Minnesota Space Grant Consortium, shared his scientific balloon expertise with McIntosh and assisted with the Morris balloon launch.

Posters of the students' research projects and the flight video will be on display in the Science Atrium on the Morris campus from 2:30 until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

View a slideshow of preparations and the launch at