Morehouse College Students Launch High-Altitude Research Balloon at UW
July 26, 2013 — Rather than watching fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend in sweltering Atlanta, students from Morehouse College spent their time launching a high-altitude research balloon at the University of Wyoming and throwing snowballs in the Snowy Range.
Thirty-eight students and faculty from the historically black college participated in the joint National Science Foundation (NSF) undergraduate program called the High Altitude Research Platform (HARP). The UW Strategic Diversity Initiatives (SDI) Committee and the School of Energy Resources (SER) sponsored the Morehouse visit to UW, which took place July 5-6. The UW Department of Atmospheric Science headed the balloon launch.
“Morehouse College is very committed to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” says Don Roth, SER’s deputy director for academics. “And UW not only provided an extraordinary venue for the launch but, as an outstanding research university, exposed Morehouse students to cutting-edge expertise and broadened their educational horizons.”
The high-altitude balloon research was part of an ongoing research project that is part of the college’s Pre-Freshmen Bridge Summer Science Program, says Lycurgus Muldrow, director of sponsored research and integrated activities for Morehouse College’s Division of Science and Mathematics.
During the balloon launch, Morehouse students conducted a number of experiments that involved various payloads. They tested the output of a newly developed lithium air battery at extremely high altitudes; videotaped termite behavior as the insects were launched into near space (defined as an altitude of 75,000 feet); tested the ability of graphene to adhere to atmospheric particulate matter at different altitudes; and tested, at different altitudes, a specific thermo-responsive biomaterial that has the potential to be further developed for space exploration.
UW’s Department of Atmospheric Science was instrumental in coordinating the balloon launch. In particular, Roth credited UW graduate students Corin Chepko and Jackie Ritzman; Terry Deshler, a professor of atmospheric science; and technician Ben Heesen for providing excellent assistance. For a video of the balloon launch, go here.
In addition to their research work, Morehouse students had time for a little fun. They got to explore the Snowy Range and engaged in a snowball fight. The group also had a Western barbecue experience with dinner at the Vee Bar Guest Ranch, Roth says.
“The students absolutely enjoyed the experience at UW,” Muldrow says. “As a result, we surveyed students and asked how many would like to apply for an undergraduate summer research opportunity next year at UW. I collected 16 names and email addresses of students who would like to return to UW next summer to do research.”
The bond between the two schools developed quickly. Nell Russell, UW’s former associate vice president for diversity from 2008-12, made an initial visit to Morehouse during March. In April, Roth and Russell trekked to Atlanta and forged the seeds of a collaborative partnership with Morehouse.
“An important component of UW's diversity initiative is to establish partnerships with select historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs),” says Russell, who is retired, but still does consulting work for UW.
The SDI was created in 2009 to promote and strengthen diversity on campus. Among the action plans the university’s previous Academic Plan 3 was to establish mutually beneficial academic partnerships with HBCUs.
“Morehouse College is one of the best HBCUs,” Roth says. “Based upon this first visit, UW and Morehouse are enthusiastic and committed to build a sustainable relationship, including opportunities for faculty and student interchanges, mutual research collaborations, seminars and special events.”
The collaborative relationship also benefits UW by providing students short- and long-term opportunities to visit and study at Morehouse College.
“We also anticipate development of a valuable recruiting pipeline for graduate students,” Roth says. “Morehouse graduates traditionally continue to graduate schools at top tier-1 universities in the U.S., and we believe UW can effectively compete for these students.”
Students from Morehouse College ready a high-altitude research balloon for launch at UW’s balloon launch facility, located near Laramie Regional Airport. (Don Roth Photo)