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LIFTOFF: Timberwolves3

Ely students study weather physics

Keith Vandervort
Posted 11/19/20

ELY – Middle-school science students at ISD 696 gathered on the baseball field Tuesday morning for a weather balloon launch. The event was part of a coordinated learning project this fall with …

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LIFTOFF: Timberwolves3

Ely students study weather physics

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ELY – Middle-school science students at ISD 696 gathered on the baseball field Tuesday morning for a weather balloon launch. The event was part of a coordinated learning project this fall with Duluth-area schools.
“This is a fun opportunity for our students to get excited about science in the atmosphere,” said Ely science teacher Nate LaFond.
The eighth-grade science classes studied weather forecasts, particularly the winds aloft predictions, for the past week in order to launch the balloon in near-perfect conditions. “We were shooting for about a one- or two-hour window where the jet stream would blow the balloon southeast across Lake Superior at about 150 mph,” LaFond said.
“I have never launched a balloon before, so this was a learning opportunity for me, too. I was most excited about getting the opportunity to collect data to use in class that most people never get the chance to do,” he said. “I could assign the same data analyses with a data set collected from the internet, but there is something special about knowing that we, as a class, came together and figured out how to launch a sensor into the stratosphere to collect the numbers. It transforms the data into a story.”
LaFond talked about his first year of teaching science at ISD 696.
“We are situated in a unique geographic location here in Ely. There are some incredible opportunities that we have with our proximity to wilderness spaces, fresh water, and boreal forests that most schools don’t have. This is a special privilege that we are working into our curriculum. One way that is happening is through the weather balloon,” he said.
Students gathered at the pitcher’s mound on the ball field just after 8 a.m. Tuesday morning to help launch Timberwolves3. After a last-minute check of the wind direction with a small helium-filled balloon, they started the inflation process.
The balloon carried aloft a parachute and a wooden frame. On the frame were a flight computer, a Spot GPS, and a Go-Pro camera as well as a couple of experiments (including a bag of potato chips) to see what might happen in the cold, low pressure of the stratosphere. A small banner with the Timberjay logo was also part of the balloon package.
Aaylah Meyers and Maggie Fetterer initiated the signal and monitored a tracking device. “It’s cool and it’s school,” Maggie said. I like to be outside when I can.”
They were excited to learn what will happen to a bag of potato chips when it rises to a near-space altitude.
“The pressure inside will expand and ‘BOOM’ the bag will probably explode,” Aaylah said. “Too bad we couldn’t launch our brothers up there!” they said.
The balloon ascended for about two hours until reaching a little over 20 kilometers in altitude, according to LaFond.
“After the balloon pops it will then drift to earth under a small parachute,” he said. He anticipated the payload landing somewhere near Wakefield, Mich.
Student Hunter Kirkeby said, “I hope it doesn’t go into Lake Superior and we can retrieve the data we collect.”
By 11 a.m. Tuesday, just two hours after launch, Timberwolves3 was tracked to have landed just inside Wisconsin.
“Top speed was over Silver Bay, where the balloon reached 289kph (180mph). It landed 260km from Ely in Boulder Junction,” LaFond said.
He contacted staff at Camp Manito-Wish YMCA on Boulder Lake, a camp where he worked for two years.
“It’s amazing that it landed so close to a place where I have some close connections,” LaFond said. “They were going to scout it Tuesday afternoon to see if I should bring some equipment to aid in getting it out of a tree (on Wednesday) or if it is on the ground.” 
LaFond commented on the process and success of the science project.
“It is so cool to see something like this finally come together. It is a process that has many moving parts all the time, both in preparation and in actually launching the balloon. When something like this comes together so smoothly, it really shows the time and preparation that the students put into learning how to use the equipment and understanding how all the different parts come together. I was just lucky enough to be a part of it. Hopefully we will get some good footage of our bag of chips we sent into space.”
Depending on the winds, the other hybrid-learning model cohort of Ely eighth-grade science students were planning another weather balloon launch on Friday.

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