RCTC Students Present at Academic High Altitude Conference

Rochester Community and Technical College students Andrea Walker and Nathan Brown were presenters at the Midwest regional meeting of the Academic High Altitude Conference held at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul.  Andrea and Nathan’s abstracts outlining their experiences with a High-Altitude Balloon (HAB) project, which included a cosmic ray detector, were presented on Wednesday, June 29 at the event.

The high altitude balloon with the cosmic ray detector was launched at 4:23 pm on Thursday, June 23 from an area near Elko-New Market, Minnesota. The balloon was tracked southeast as it rose to 91,000 feet where it burst and began its descent.  The attached location transmitter’s signal was lost at 77,000 feet as the balloon dropped.  The team determined that the balloon landed in a 20×20 mile area southeast of St. Charles.  After a full day of searching, the balloon was located in a deeply wooded valley on state forest land.  Video of the HAB launch can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSVUt6vndFo.

“RCTC Physics and Engineering had a very successful second balloon launch this month,” said Dr. Rod Milbrandt, RCTC Physics Instructor. “The students, together with Steve Keidl and other retired engineer volunteers, designed, built, tested, and launched a cosmic ray detector to near space altitude (91,000 feet) and retrieved the payload successfully.”  Milbrandt notes that early analysis of pressure, temperature and cosmic ray data collected closely matched predictions.

RCTC physics major and Rochester native, Andrea Walker shared, “Attending the Stratospheric Ballooning Association’s Academic High Altitude Conference was a wonderful opportunity to share our research experience and learn from the other presenters. Talking with the conference attendees was exciting, and I was able to learn about the various cosmic ray experiments that other colleges and universities are also designing for ballooning. Their insights were useful for considering future areas of research. I also found the plans for balloon launches during the 2017 eclipse very interesting. I appreciate the opportunity Dr. Milbrandt gave us to attend this conference. “

RCTC engineering student and Rochester native, Nathan Brown adds, “The HAB project was one of the most comprehensive and rewarding learning experiences I’ve had at RCTC. The long-term balloon project provided crucial experience in the entire process of academic science, from concept and design to analysis and presentation, and it uniquely paralleled and complimented my education in electrical engineering, which I was told even some students at 4-year universities don’t receive in their undergraduate programs.”

Both Walker and Brown agree that opportunities like these greatly enhance their academic experience.

“Having been given the opportunity by RCTC to present my results at the AHAC 2016 annual meeting provided me with invaluable experience in presenting and discussing scientific experiments and the results of those experiments. The professional connections and exposure that Andrea and I received at the meeting will help propel our academic careers higher as a result of Dr. Milbrandt and RCTC’s ceaseless support of our learning and development. Having completed this project and presentation, I feel exceptionally comfortable transitioning from RCTC to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in the fall.”

RCTC Physics and Engineering plans to continue balloon launches each spring going forward with different student projects.

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