April 25, 2024


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Students send projects into the stratosphere, raising their hopes of careers in space

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Students send projects into the stratosphere, raising their hopes of careers in space

Only balloon base in Canada gives local students unique space science opportunity

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High school and elementary school students from across Timmins and the region sent their science experiments into the stratosphere on Monday from the Timmins Stratospheric Balloon base.

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The experiments were sent up on a helium-filled stratospheric meteorological balloon, which is the same type of balloon used by Environment Canada every day to measure the weather.

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The Timmins Stratospheric Balloon base, located at the Timmins Victor M. Power Airport, allows scientists and science students to take measurements in a near-space environment, the stratosphere, using stratospheric balloons. 

It is the only one of its kind in Canada, giving Timmins students a unique opportunity to study space.

On Monday, student Vanessa Berry sent up a Geiger counter to measure radiation in the form of gamma rays in the atmosphere. The small tube makes a noise when it encounters gamma rays, and measures them as counts-per-minute.

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“Radiation is bad for your health, ultra violet rays give you sunburns. Gamma rays are worse, so it’s important to measure them,” says Barry, who is in her second year with the Stratospheric Balloon project, organized by the Science Timmins Science Centre.

Monday’s opportunity supports Berry’s career aspirations. In September, she will be attending Ottawa University to study mechanical engineering. She aspires to work at the Canadian Space Agency or in the space industry.

“Sending a project into the stratosphere is a beginning for my career,” Berry told The Daily Press on a tour of the base on Friday.

Participating high schools include Roland Michener, O’Gorman, Timmins High and Vocational School, and École Secondaire catholique Thériault.

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A group of Grade 4 students from Constance Lake also sent some experiments along that were originally scheduled for May, but had to be delayed until Monday due to unfavourable winds.

The Daily Press spoke with Madison Duquette only minutes after her project was launched.

“I worked on my project year-round and now it’s up the balloon,” said the Grade 12 Thériault student.

“It’s like a part of me is up there, a part of me I worked really hard on all year round to send up there is in the stratosphere now. To see our ideas and all of our plans come to life and go up in that balloon was a really rewarding experience,” she said, adding that she became involved following a school presentation by president and CEO of Science Timmins, Antoine Garwah.

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Over the past year, Duquette has worked with people from Science Timmins, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Timmins Victor M. Power Airport to develop her project.

Duquette was measuring high levels harmful UVA and UVB rays in the stratosphere to compare it to levels on earth, in order to assess what could happen if the Ozone layer deteriorated due to pollution.

“Once the Ozone layer kicks in, that’s when we can see how much it protects us from these harmful rays, and why it’s so important that we protect the Ozone layer, to keep our environment safe.”

Once her project returns from its journey, she’ll plug it into her computer and see the level of UV rays at each height.

“A team will come out with the helicopter,” said Duquette. “It might take a day or two to retrieve our capsule with our projects in it, I’ll be able to retrieve the information I collected.”

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A team from Science Timmins is also an integral part of the annual Strato-Science balloon launching campaigns. Every morning at 6 a.m., they test the weather conditions for the day to determine if the winds are favourable and won’t send the balloons flying into the trees.

“We’re here to get the radiosonde ready and programmed, and we put it on a weather balloon, ready to be launched at 7 o’clock,” said Garwah, speaking from the base on Monday. “It will go up to the desired altitude of 32,000 metres, and it takes about 2 hours before it bursts and comes down.

“Every second we have data coming in related to the pressure, temperature, humidity and whatever is needed to decide on the next flight.”

Being part of the Strato-Science team is Science Timmins’ mission in action, according to Lorraine Cantin, chair of the board.

“This is our active contribution to the science of the day, and we’re so pleased to have the opportunity to work with the Canadian and French Space Agency. It’s exciting and it brings science to life.”


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