Wharton High School physics students take experiments to new heights at MOSI

Even though the SpaceX rocket launch was delayed until Sunday due to poor weather, conditions in Tampa were clear for Hillsborough County students to participate in the district’s first-ever, high-altitude balloon launch at MOSI. 

"We have hundreds of people out here. Families came out from Hillsborough County Public schools. We brought our friends in from Omaha to help us with our first launch, and everything went exactly to plan," said Larry Plank, the executive director of science education with HCPS.

With the balloon reaching an altitude of more than 80,000 feet, physics students at Wharton High School were able to take their experiments to new heights, collecting data from both the sky and on the ground. 

"We have four UV sensors, ultraviolet sensors, we have a layer of tape on it, and we have different sunscreens, different opacities. They’re all 50 SPF, but they’re a different brand, a couple of different consistencies. So we’re trying to see how that would affect how much UV light would get into the sensor," explained Dillon CAO, one of the senior, physics students involved in the experiment. 

After liftoff, the learning began as sensors and trackers on the balloon sent back real-time data for those watching on the ground. 

"We are getting data, live feedback right now. We have a couple of folks out there chasing the balloon as well. So we’ll retrieve those boxes, we have a GoPro up there so we’re getting a lot of great visuals as well. Then students will analyze the data," Plank commented. 

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The launch is all part of the Hillsborough Country School District's goal to expose students to a more engaging STEM curriculum. 

"We have a deficit in our country. We don’t have enough kids interested in STEM," Plank explained. "The kids get to touch the balloon and be a part of the data collection and the excitement, this will turn them on. It might only take one day, it could be this launch, and we might have a couple of hundred great scientists come along with us."

Over the next three years, the district plans to dedicate $10.5 million in ESSER funding to expand their STEM program, giving students more experiences that are out of this world. 

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