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home : education : schools November 17, 2018

1/30/2018 2:06:00 PM
Students to go to Belgium for science
SHS seniors Ethan Ferwalt, Ashonte Hull and junior Amy Hills working on their high-altitude electronic experiment they will take to Belgium. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
SHS seniors Ethan Ferwalt, Ashonte Hull and junior Amy Hills working on their high-altitude electronic experiment they will take to Belgium. photo provided

By Jim Anderson

Three Sisters High School chemistry students - seniors Ethan Ferwalt, Ashonte Hull, and junior Amy Hills - have been selected, through a competitive process from world-wide applicants, to join a group of students in Brussels, Belgium, to send near-space experiments up in an atmospheric balloon.

The three students designed their experiment during chemistry classes this last fall, and then chose the option to enter it in the Asgard Balloon Project. They were selected. The students plan to travel to Belgium (assuming they can raise the appropriate funds) with one or two of their parents to attend this science event in late April, 2018.

Last spring, the SHS chemistry classes were conducting near space atmospheric balloon experiments, mentored by Sisters resident Steven Peterzën of the ISTAR Group - a firm that offers a multitude of support for science and technological research in the polar regions. The students Skyped with students of Erik de Schrijver at a school in Belgium to discuss their experiences and experiments.

The students from Belgium had conducted similar experiments, and they enjoyed talking about their projects and what it's like to be a teenager in the U.S. and in Belgium. During this exchange, de Schrijver invited the SHS students to enter experiments in the competitive Asgard Project.

Last fall, the chemistry students submitted their projects. Dirk Frimout, who became Belgium's first astronaut in 1992, is president of the jury who selects the winners from the secondary school's experiments. Two groups from SHS entered their ideas, and one was selected.

Ferwalt, Hills, and Hull are busy building and refining their experiment, with their first reporting deadline on January 31. SHS science teacher Rima Givot is looking forward to helping and watching the students progress.

Ferwalt had this to say about his experience: "I feel really lucky to be doing this Asgard project because it's a project of my own creation. It would have been easy to slack on the application, but I wanted to really challenge myself.

"So I devised the entire concept from scratch, drawing inspiration from other teams testing how certain life forms and viruses responded to a balloon launch. I thought, "Why can't I apply that idea to other topics, such as capacitors and resistors?" It seemed likely that certain circuitry would potentially "die" when exposed to space, and the idea was plenty cool and deep enough to roll with.

"Our team was said to be the only American team selected (out of around 20 applicants) and I consider that to be a high honor."

Ferwalt will be using a unique computer, Arudino, to help him gather the data he's looking for in the experiment he and his team are conducting. Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software, used by anyone making interactive projects.

Hull said, "I expect to learn a lot about circuits and the components that go into how resistors and capacitors work. I also expect to learn some interesting and new facts from other contestants' projects as well."

SHS junior Amy Hill is the third member of the team going to Belgium. She's hoping the Sisters community will step up to help her and her friends make the trip.

"When I get back," she says, "I hope I will have collected enough of a science background to help me get accepted to a college with a wide variety of scientific interests. Right now I'm looking at electronics as a topic for study, but perhaps my experiences with other kids in Belgium will help me discover another area of science I'll fall for."

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