Ballooning boosts STEM learning

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When the first high altitude balloon launched by BSC faculty and students burst 20 miles over Bismarck last fall, the GoPro camera in the payload captured the moment.

When the strap holding the GoPro camera and GPS tracking device to the balloon failed, sending the payload falling to earth, the team simply followed the signals on their computers, traipsed into the field near Steele, N.D., where it landed, and collected it – key pieces intact.

“It was exciting to see it go up, knowing you did that and it worked,” says Carlie Borchers, a sophomore engineering transfer student who has been involved with two of the launches through the BSC STEM Club.

The next launch, last May, included additional equipment for tracking the payload, along with sensors purchased through a grant from the BSC Foundation. The new sensors provided data on temperature, relative humidity and g-forces.

DSC_3552.jpgIn addition to putting together the payload, Borchers tracked the balloon’s progress on a computer. “It’s relevant,” she says of the experience that is currently helping her understand graphing in her physics class.

Tony Musumba, associate professor of Physics, along with professors Mike Holman and Robert Arso from BSC’s Electronics/Telecommunications program led the ballooning effort. They work with other faculty, the STEM Club and local amateur radio enthusiasts to coordinate the launches.

“It teaches students that everyone on their team has value and can contribute ideas that make the project successful. This is what is expected in their future profession and life in general…. Students get a sense of accomplishment and realize what they are really capable of doing,” says Arso.

Musumba says the next launch will incorporate more engineering “rather than using sensors off the shelf, we’ll give engineering students more experience in building and designing sensors.”
Jennifer Kessler, assistant professor of Engineering, notes that the collaboration is where the learning comes in. The balloon project simulates work projects.

G0021992_1.jpg“You have a project, you’ll have different tasks associated with it that must be completed to be successful. Students will break down the tasks, faculty will oversee, but students will spearhead successful completion. They engage in small group dialogue and problem solving, then collectively, the small groups work as big group to collect data.”

The history of ballooning at BSC is tied to BSC’s long-term involvement with the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium. The Consortium works to make space and space science accessible to all North Dakotans. The balloon efforts are an offshoot of this, Musumba says.

This summer and fall, the ballooning group extended those efforts even farther afield, launching a balloon with faculty and students from Mayville State University. Upon graduation, the Mayville students bring ballooning to the high school students they’ll teach.