12 May 2017

Stratospheric Balloon at Cégep de Sherbrooke: An Innovation in Science and Education

Physics students from the Cégep de Sherbrooke and their teacher, Martin Aubé, worked on an ambitious and very concrete project: sending a balloon into the stratosphere and analyzing the data collected. Other than making for an exciting semester for students, this challenge constitutes a scientific innovation at a low cost, as well as a new take on teaching science.

On April 2, 2017, after waiting for ideal weather conditions, the students were eager to launch their balloon near Sorel in the hopes of gathering as much data as possible. “It was thrilling, we launched the balloon and it shot up into the sky really fast, before breaking through the clouds and disappearing into a tiny speck in space,” said Martin Aubé. After a 90-minute flight, the balloon burst at an altitude of 27 km, only two kilometres short of predictions.

A styrofoam box had been fastened to the balloon to carry two microprocessors developed and programmed by the students, a mini camera, as well as sensors to collect various data: atmospheric pressure, acceleration, temperature, UV rays, humidity, magnetic fields, and cosmic radiation.

Results greater than expected

“We were well-prepared, but we also had luck on our side,” explains Martin Aubé. “We were not sure whether the sensors would fail at some point. We were really happy with the results, as the balloon even captured a solar storm and cosmic radiation. This data has yet to be analyzed.” The experiment even led to collecting particles from two different meteorites, volcanic ash, and unidentified microparticles that are currently being studied by the young scientists.

An innovation to be shared

The group had heard from a reliable source that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is currently working on a similar project, which shows that our young Sherbrooke scientists are among the pioneers in Québec conducting such experiments and collecting this type of scientific data. “Launching stratospheric balloons is becoming more and more commonplace in the field. It’s a cost-effective way of collecting a lot of relevant data,” explained Martin Aubé, who was inspired by a project from an Italian engineer who had shared his “recipe”. Mr. Aubé will also follow this example and pass on his updated recipe along with his results. “There is a considerable potential here for researchers and entrepreneurs to take measurements that may be useful to various applications, in an independent, low-cost way, without involving the CSA.” Researchers or entrepreneurs who may need this type of data could replicate the experiment based on Aubé’s method.

All this concrete experience and the resulting data make for a learning approach deeply rooted in reality for students. “Students often practise in ideal, predetermined conditions that do not reflect the reality of the job market.” Martin Aubé considers that this type of innovation and rewarding challenges in education will provide insight to students on how to adapt to the imperfect conditions they will be faced with every day, as well as further advancing the state of knowledge in the field.

Source: Martin Aubé, Cégep de Sherbrooke and La Tribune
Photo on the Facebook page of the project: HAB Cégep de Sherbrooke (HAB stands for High Altitude Baloon)

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