June 22, 2016

St. Kate's hosts conference on high-altitude ballooning

Professor Erick Agrimson inflating a weather balloon, while his students hold it steady. Photo by Ashley de los Reyes '15

If your mom was the first licensed woman balloonist in the world and the first woman to ascend into the stratosphere, and your dad invented the plastic balloon used routinely in balloon flights and atmospheric or space research… what are the chances of you not becoming involved in ballooning?

Well, slim — if you’re Don Piccard.

Piccard flew the first multi-celled plastic balloon in 1957 and co-piloted the first hot-air balloon across the English Channel in 1963. He was a pioneer in sport balloon design and production, organizing the first hot-air balloon races in the world. He also founded the Balloon Club of America (now the Balloon Federation of America).

Don Piccard

On June 29, Piccard will speak about his family adventures in ballooning at the 7th Annual Academic High-Altitude Conference held at St. Catherine University. His keynote address, “Piccard family ballooning — a multi-decade, multi-generational affair,” is open to the public: 6:45–8:30 p.m. (lecture 7 p.m.) in the Coeur de Catherine ballroom. (see campus map)

The three-day conference (June 29–July 1) is expected to draw educators and students from more than 17 universities across the nation. Breakout sessions include topics such as “Ballooning Engineering: Tracking, Location and Control” and “Getting Students Excited About Science With High Altitude Ballooning.” Physicist Shaul Hanany will give the second keynote "Balloon-Borne Measurements of the Structure of the Universe and its Evolution" on Thursday. His talk is only open to registered participants.

Professors Erick Agrimson and Kaye Smith of St. Kate’s Department of Math and Physics are leading the event planning. The pair head up St. Kate’s high altitude balloon project, a popular research collaboration with undergraduate students. In fact, three of their students will also present at the conference:

  • Rachel DuBose ’17, “Early work on a rotation table for magnetometer calibration”
  • Marilyn McNamara ’16, “Statistical tests exploring a subset of variables related to balloon burst altitude”
  • Brittany Craig ’16, “Temperature and Pressure Test Results Using Thermocouple, Thermistor and Band Gap Temperature Sensors”

See photos and a video here of St. Kate’s ballooning project.

NOTE: Weather permitting, the 2016 Academic High-Altitude Conference will include a balloon launch on June 29 (1 p.m.) from the quad in front of O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, on the St. Paul campus.