Up, Up, and Away!

Earth Systems Science students at Colchester High School recently participated in real-time atmospheric research using weather balloons.

CHS science students prepare to launch a weather balloon

CHS science students Katrina Groseclose, Charlotte Lau, and Casey Duclos prepare to launch a weather balloon

Earth Systems Science is a required course for all CHS students—the overarching goal of which is to develop students’ understanding of the earth as a large system composed of smaller, constantly interacting systems while helping students to examine the role that humans play in shaping, changing, and responding to these dynamic systems.

The students collaborated with UVM research engineer Mike Fortney, who designed a microsensor (called a “cricket sensor”) that collects temperature, humidity, and air pressure readings with the balloons’ increase in altitude. This allows students to compare their real-time data to that collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The students recorded and tracked the broadcasted data for further analysis in the classroom in order to facilitate their understanding of the structure of our planet’s atmosphere.

"Cricket sensor"

“Cricket sensor” used for collecting weather-related data

Typically, the signals can be picked up by radio within a range of approximately one hundred miles, broadcasting their readings through a series of chirping sounds (hence the name “cricket sensor”), with the number and pitch of the chirps indicating the type and value of the data. The cricket sensors used in the launches were used in place of the routinely used radiosondes, which require sophisticated and expensive tracking and recording equipment.

This was a rare opportunity for our students; because costs and equipment for weather balloon launches are typically prohibitively expensive, students do not often have a chance to directly participate. CHS science teacher Kara Lenorovitz arranged the students’ opportunity to take part in the hands-on research through her affiliation with UVM and Lyndon State College’s Satellite, Weather, and Climate program, which is a science education project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and run by Vermont state climatologist Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux. CHS science teacher Will Warren also collaborated on the balloon launch initiative (please click here to read about his classroom-flipping concept, and please click here to read about the human-powered generator that he designed and built).

CHS science teacher Kara and UVM Mike

CHS science teacher Kara Lenorovitz and UVM research engineer Mike Fortney

The balloons, carrying the aforementioned “cricket sensors,” were expected travel through the earth’s troposphere and reach as high as the lower stratosphere—approximately sixty thousand feet above the earth’s surface—within an hour of the launches.

Help us keep watch for those payloads! If found, they will be returned to CHS, along with information about where and when they were found, in order to provide additional qualitative information about wind direction in the atmosphere.

CHS science student Jaeger Nedde

CHS science student Jaeger Nedde

The Colchester School District Vision and Strategic Plan 2012–2017 includes Pathway A: High Standards, Expectations, and Individual Engagement for All Learners; Pathway B: Technology Infrastructure and Integration; Pathway C: Learning Outside Our Four Walls; and Pathway E: Parent, Community, and School Partnerships Among Lifelong Learners—and this community partnership speaks to all four.

For more information, please contact Kara Lenorovitz at (802) 264-5700 or lenorovitzk@csdvt.org.

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