The stuff of dreams: local high school students to conduct eclipse testing with UB engineers

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Many kids dream about space.

On Thursday, students from Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet School in Bridgeport took a step closer to their dreams when they joined University of Bridgeport (UB) engineers and special invited guests for a final testing of scientific instruments before this month’s upcoming solar eclipse.

Hritish Bhargava, Ryan Gay, and Ryan Dang—rising juniors from Fairchild Wheeler’s School of Aerospace/Hydrospace, Engineering and Physical Science—have been training with a team of UB engineering students and their professor Dr. Jani Macari Pallis since last fall to prepare for August 21, when the moon will completely block the sun over parts of the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina.

On that day, the Fairchild Wheeler students will help Pallis and other researchers launch scientific instruments on high-altitude balloons and monitor atmospheric data as it is relayed back to Earth. The balloons also will ferry instruments to live-stream the event.

The launch on Thursday from Seaside Park was a final run-through before the historic day as well as a chance to share their work with parents and special invited guests.

UB President and Mrs. Neil A. Salonen, Senior Vice President for Graduate Studies and Research and Dean of the School of Engineering Dr. Tarek Sobh, and Vice President of Facilities George Estrada were among those who helped support a high-altitude balloon as it filled with helium before quickly lifting off at precisely 11:30 a.m. Gazing up into a cloudless sky, onlookers watched the white balloon grow seemingly smaller and smaller as it ascended over the UB campus, rising at a rate of approximately 1,000 feet per minute.

UB President and Mrs. Neil Salonen were among those who participated in eclipse testing on August 10

“As an institution of higher education, UB is committed to enriching educational experiences for area students who can benefit from our faculty’s expertise and the University’s resources. We are proud of our collaboration with Fairchild Wheeler, but this project, working with NASA during a historic eclipse, defies expectations,” said President Salonen. “Dr. Pallis and our graduate engineering students are sharing their knowledge with young people who are equally passionate about science and technology, and this event reflects the fact that the dreams of science are shared by all.”

Pallis and her UB students are members of the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium Eclipse Ballooning Team who, along with top university researchers across the U.S., are assisting NASA on August 21. Other Consortium team members include engineers from the University of Hartford and the Discovery Museum and Planetarium in Bridgeport.

Last year, Pallis proposed that students from Fairchild Wheeler be included, too.

“It seemed like a no-brainer to include an aerospace magnet school,” Pallis said. “These students are very engaged. They’ve been here every morning for meetings and training. They’re writing procedures. Make no mistake, they are valued members of this team.”

“Dr. Pallis and our graduate engineering students are sharing their knowledge with young people who are equally passionate about science and technology, and this event reflects the fact that the dreams of science are shared by all.” – UB President Neil A. Salonen
On August 21, the UB team will be stationed in Hardin, Kentucky, where they will launch two high-altitude video balloons equipped with special equipment to live stream the event. The video balloons will also contain a NASA astrobiology experiment. Four additional weather balloons which will be launched in Paducah, KY, will carry an instrument called a radiosonde, which measures environmental conditions like temperature, pressure, relative humidity, and provides GPS location, altitude, wind direction and speed.

As the team prepares for the eclipse, “it’s practice, practice, practice,” said Pallis. “The weather has not cooperated this summer, between the rain and overcast cloud coverage. We had great weather this Wednesday and Thursday, and we were able to do two launches and train with the Fairchild Wheeler students who will be part of the team launching in Paducah.”

Others who attended Thursday’s test launch included David Mestre, Discovery Museum manager of STEM Learning Programs and director of the Henry B. duPont, III Planetarium, Larry Reed and Gary Moyher, who are mentors from the Discovery Museum, UB Adjunct Professor Jim Pallis, and Fairchild Wheeler School of Aerospace/Hydrospace Engineering & Physical Sciences Principal Jay Lipp.

This is not the first time that UB engineers have worked with Fairchild Wheeler, Lipp noted.

“The Aero/Hydrospace Engineering and Physical Science Magnet High School at the Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Campus has collaborated with the University of Bridgeport since the opening of the school in 2013 and, as a result of this partnership, the students and staff have greatly benefitted both academically and experientially,” Lipp said.

“Beyond UB’s assistance in writing curriculum and providing technical support, UB has also included our school in a partnership with the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium that will further engage our students in a variety of science and engineering events, including this upcoming one, the high-altitude balloon launch for the August 21st solar eclipse. One of our teachers, along with three students, will join the UB team in Kentucky to participate in the launch and tracking of balloons carrying the weather instrumentation,” he added.

For Lipp’s students, August 21 can’t come soon enough. “I’m nervous, but excited,” said Hritish Bhargava,

Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu

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