Taking problem solving to soaring heights

By Randy Sunderland

Taking problem solving to soaring heights | School, DHS

Photo by Randy Sunderland Before a selection committee of community members, Team Project Gamma made a winning pitch on Dec. 10 to fund its experiment to measure radiation at altitudes as high as 120,000 feet. They were one of three teams of Delta High Sc

Could you send a small box of instruments up 23 miles in altitude and back safely?

This challenge was made of Delta High School students earlier this year. It was the beginning of a major learning experience for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and AP Physics 2 students. They were asked to send a useful scientific payload to a minimum altitude of 120,000 feet and return it safely to their possession.

This is not just a hypothetical question. One team of students will get the opportunity to actually build their scientific payload and launch it this spring. But first the design has to get past peer review, and a selection team of community members.

The first stage was for teams of two to come up with initial designs to present to fellow students and their teacher, Ben Magtutu. They had six weeks to work the problem and come up with a viable design. In a single page, each team (without identifying who they were) highlighted the most important aspects of their design. Those students participating in the challenge voted, and the five designs receiving the most votes moved on to become team leaders of the next stage.

Those students whose designs did not make the top five were then divided among the five design teams to continue to refine the concept. They were given four weeks to create a formal, technical presentation about their design.

The field of five was narrowed to three, with the students whose designs were not selected as finalists assigned to the remaining three teams.

On Dec. 10, the surviving three teams made formal presentations before a selection committee made up of folks from the community. The winning team would be funded to actually build and launch their design.

Each team was judged on how well they explained their experiment, the regulations involved in launching a payload into commercial airspace, what they needed to do the experiment, how they would track and recover their payload package, and how much it would cost to achieve success. They were also judged on their overall presentation.

First up was Team Time Warp. For eight minutes they described how their experiment would measure the effects of gravity on time by noting differences at the launch site and at 120,000 feet. A weather balloon would carry their six-pound instrumentation package aloft. They would launch from private property near Delta. Their budget . . . just over $800.

The team included Beau Byers, Benjamin Sandoval, Jason Kaighn, Miranda Rhinehart, Anthony Streich, Lily Lockhart, Tyler Meyers, Kaisa Simon, Marcos Gonzalez, Cruz Arias and Emily Baier.

Team Stratos What pitched an experi ment to collect bacteria in the stratosphere and return it for further study. Using a 3-D printer, they would create a payload with a trap door which would open and close at altitude to collect a sample. They would also use a weather balloon, launched from the golf course. Flight time was estimated at two hours. Their budget, $880.

The team included Naomi Hayner, Nectaira Hanning, Hannah Branson, Derek Kendrick and Alan Carrasco.

Team Project Gamma explained how they would check for radiation at various altitudes, using instrumentation attached to a weather balloon. They would launch from Lands End on the Grand Mesa, where prevailing winds would carry the package up the valley for recovery. Their design budget was $2,400, prompting questions about why their experiment was three times better than the other two teams. They noted their experiment would spawn more experiments at school, and provide data more representative of our locale than previous measurements.

The team included Sara Jurca, Elizabeth Ward, Wade Stinson, Zachary Valdez, Brandon Ware, Hannah Owens, Emily Nortnik, Dakota Scott, Evan Watson, Juan Chavez and Neifi Campas.

In the end, Project Gamma was selected. The project will be funded and the other groups will join to complete the design and hopefully launch in April.