News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Students launch science experiments

Sisters High School Chemistry class sent their work aloft in the annual weather balloon launch at the Sisters Eagle Airport, led by teacher Rima Givot on Wednesday, May 15.

The launch focuses on giving students a hands-on experience to integrate their learning into real-world applications. The students are prompted to brainstorm an experiment that they'd like to send up on the weather balloons; they're then paired up with classmates who have similar ideas.

Each of the two balloons goes up 8,000 feet into the stratosphere, and student experiments are exposed to high UV rays, freezing temperatures, and low pressures.

"The brainstorming process was a hard balance of expanding on past ideas and building my own, but it led to me doing my own research. It was beneficial because I learned a lot about past experiments that gave me the foundation for my own," said sophomore Teagen Welsh.

This event first began in 2015. Since then, the payload that the experiments are sent up on have progressed dramatically, and student ideas have only become more creative.

Heidi Dixon was a student teacher who aided Givot in 2015 during the initial launch and is now a science teacher at La Pine High School.

"It's amazing to see how far the launches have come. The first year we did this we didn't even have parachutes and the GoPro didn't turn on...I think this experience allows students to be scientists. It ties into main chemistry standards and it's an opportunity for everyone to learn," she said as she watched the students prepare.

The goal of the launch is to give students a chance to think outside the box. The teams either focus on working on an experiment, managing the project, or designing the parachute, payload, or other additional materials.

This endeavor was aided by funding from Battelle, contributions from Steve Peterzen of ISTAR (International Science Technology and Research), Rod Moorehead, Chris McDougal, Thomas Jeffrey, Ron Thorkildson, and the support of Sisters Eagle Airport.

As a result of this support the students were pushed to their creative limits. For the first time this year student Joseph Derksen and mentor Chris McDougal collaborated on building a UV ray sensor to instate on the payload.

After the launch at 8 a.m., a small group of chemistry students participated in the retrieval trip. Each of the balloons were trackable through APRS and SPOT trackers.

The group only had to hike a short while from the road to find them after driving and trailing their location. The first balloon was easy to obtain, found in an empty clearing, but the second had gotten stuck in a tree branch about 30 feet up.

The team eventually got it down, and made it back to the school around 5:30 p.m.

"My favorite part was probably watching the APRS trackers, our bus was really competitive to see which period balloon landed first and which went the highest and fastest. I really just enjoyed the company around me," said sophomore Sophie Gerke.

The class is now working on analyzing their data and creating a presentation on what they've learned. Some of the students are volunteering to help students at Warm Springs with their upcoming weather balloon launch, inspired by Sisters High School, later this week.


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