Summer high school students balloon launch into space featured in EOS magazine of the American Geophysical Union
Image of the coast of Maine taken from the 2016 SMART balloon flight. Note the pale blue band that is the Earth’s atmosphere together with the black of space above.
For 25 years the University of New Hampshire has offered a month-long, residential summer program for high school students called Project SMART (Science and Math Advancement through Research Training). Working in SMART, the students get in-depth experience in either of three modules: Biotechnology and Nanotechnology, Marine and Environmental Science, and Space Science.
The space science module is run by faculty in the Physics Department and Space Science Center of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space with the vital support of three local high school physics teachers. This year the students received lectures in core physics subjects, constructed electronic circuits that performed as compact scientific instruments, launched a high-altitude balloon to 100,000 feet that carried those same instruments to the stratosphere, worked with spacecraft data from several NASA missions, and designed a magnetometer boom for an upcoming CubeSat payload.
Students this year worked together with the Environmental Science module to fly an air sampler on their balloon payload in an effort to gather particulate samples from the stratosphere. The hope is that we will find cyanobacteria in the sample which is being cultured now. In addition, students built and flew photometers that capture the spectrum of reflected light from the Earth’s surface at several different frequencies. This is a new departure from the Geiger counters students have built in past years which we expect will provide students with a new way of viewing the Earth and its atmosphere. Also this year, for the first time, project SMART was featured in a comprehensive article in the EOS Earth & Space Science News magazine of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
Every year the SMART program offers something new to keep the work fresh and exciting to the faculty as well as the students. This year a new crop of students pushed the limits of their abilities and learned what it means to perform science outside the formal structure of a classroom. As in past years, students gained a new perspective on what it means to have careers in science and engineering as they continue to think about their own futures and the paths their lives will take.