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home : education : schools May 26, 2018


5/8/2018 1:13:00 PM
Sisters chemistry classes head for space
Amy Hills and Ethan Ferwalt made last-minute adjustments to their resistor and capacitor experiment.  photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Amy Hills and Ethan Ferwalt made last-minute adjustments to their resistor and capacitor experiment. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson
Correspondent

The paved parking area adjacent to the gas pumps at the Sisters Airport got pretty crowded last Thursday morning. Close to a hundred people, large cylinders of lighter-then-air gas, and a remotely controlled sailplane and a drone commanded the space in preparation for an historic launch.

Among the ground-bound vehicles that pulled in and parked was a big yellow bus from Sisters High School that let off 61 students from two chemistry classes.

Right along with them were several pickups hauling various pieces of equipment that were needed to send some chemistry experiments powered by gas balloons from the airport to the edge of space, and then recover them when they returned.

"At the beginning of the launch I asked the students to observe the mountains and surrounding environment and recognize what an incredible place we live," science teacher Rima Givot said. "I wanted the students to recognize in they are among very few high school students who have the opportunity to be in such a spectacular place on a gorgeous sunny morning launching stratospheric weather balloons with amazing community mentors."

Steven Peterzen, president of ISTAR Group, who has international experience in sending up balloons, was there to advise and assist. Rod Moorehead, also in the picture, helped to design a project for this flight. He was curious if ultraviolet light affected the surface of wood; he helped the students establish a small platform on one side of the payload space to hold six pieces of walnut to see what might happen to the surface when exposed to severe ultraviolet light.

As NASA has discovered all too often, "Murphy's Law" (which states that if anything can go wrong it will) was also part of Givot and her crew's activities that day. Just about the time the first launch was about to take place, the balloon, inflated with lighter-than-air gas, suddenly launched itself without its payload and went sailing off into the wild blue.

However, that one unplanned launch was the only problem of the day. The other two launches sent questions off into the atmosphere without a hitch. Among them were Payton Cordell's fruit-oxidation experiment and Evan Holly's yeast-growth experiment. Ethan Manual queried the chemical change of acids, while Lydia Chloe tested effects on fruit in airtight versus regular containers, and Ethan Ferwalt and Amy Hills crafted a capacitor and resistor experiment.

An experiment with lab type E.coli, and another on how space affects baby pea plants also flew off without problems.

Both payloads, after reaching an altitude of close to 70,000 feet (they were hoping for 100,000 feet), were released to float back to earth with the aid of a small parachute, reaching the surface undamaged. They were located without too much trouble east of Bend.

Mirjam Ehrler, an SHS senior who is attending school here as an exchange student from Switzerland, summed up the day:

"For the high-altitude experiment, my partner, Quinlan Crowe and I grew E. coli cells, which was not just my first time culturing cells, but also my first self-created experiment. As I want to do forensics after I graduate from university, this will be something I'll do on a daily basis as part of my career."

Her partner, Crowe, said, "The balloon launch was in itself inspiring. It really made me feel like I was truly learning beyond the books and was a part of something beyond just my class because we had support from the entire community.

"I learned many things from this project. It taught me how important step by-step-procedures are because in science - and sometimes life - knowing exactly what you are doing is helpful. But also on the other end of that sometimes you just have to let things go and let them do their thing.

"Overall I have learned more about what it is like to be a scientist, and learned other life lessons. In the future this could help me decide what I want to do as a career. I could possibly see myself working in the science field because it is so interesting and you are always learning new things."

Erhler witnessed the balloon launch event from the cockpit of retired teacher Jon Renner's Piper airplane.

"The flight that I got to take was something I'd never done before," she said, "and it was absolutely amazing. Seeing the rising balloons from the small plane, the small town of Sisters and its wonderful mountains and country from a different perspective was an incredible feeling, and I'm really thankful for that unique opportunity."









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