Summer Scholars spotlight: 2017 Solar Eclipse

Summer Scholar Alynie Walter '18 displays "Grandma's Clock" (as nicknamed by the ballooning team), a clock from the 1920's that was painted with iridium to make the clock face glow in the dark and is slightly radioactive as a byproduct. The team uses "Grandma's Clock" to make sure that their radiation data-gathering equipment is working correctly. Photo by Michelle Mullowney '17

Summer Scholar Alynie Walter '18 displays "Grandma's Clock" (as nicknamed by the ballooning team), a clock from the 1920's that was painted with iridium to make the clock face glow in the dark and is slightly radioactive as a byproduct. The team uses "Grandma's Clock" to make sure that their radiation data-gathering equipment is working correctly. Photo by Michelle Mullowney '17

Summer Scholars 2017

Each summer, students and faculty members team up for Summer Scholars, an intensive 10-week program that provides an opportunity for professors and undergraduate students from all disciplines to conduct collaborative research together. At the end, students present their research projects to faculty, staff, trustees, family and community members in a closing celebration. This year, we're shining the spotlight on two Summer Scholars projects on opposite ends of the spectrum: our studio art team and our physics team.

On a sweltering day in July, a third-floor Mendel Hall classroom hums with activity.

"We're constantly in motion," says Erick Agrimson, associate professor of physics. All around him are St. Kate's physics, mathematics and chemistry students plugging away at spreadsheets, complicated wiring, and a long, spindly, white device that looks like some strange type of ladder.

The ultimate goal? Documenting thermal and radiation effects of the 2017 total solar eclipse.

Agrimson is the faculty member of the Summer Scholars team — which also includes students Alynie Walter '18, Vina Onyango-Robshaw '18 and Ana Taylor '19 — working on the high-altitude ballooning project.

In addition to the three Summer Scholars contributing to the project, five other St. Kate's students were awarded Minnesota Space Grant Consortium Scholars to do this work. The St. Kate's team is also partnering with the University of Minnesota, Morris physics department and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities aeronautical engineering and mechanics program for the eclipse project.

Not only that, but, notes Agrimson, most of the 50 teams around the country documenting the eclipse will conduct a single experiment. “We’re doing two. This is such a huge endeavor that we need as many hands on deck as possible to get it done.”

In short, it's no small potatoes. The team's data collection is unprecedented, because the white "ladder" device used to collect the information was invented by St. Kate's and the U of M, Twin Cities. "It's data that's never been recorded before," says Agrimson.

On August 21, Agrimson and the rest of the St. Kate’s team will drive to Grand Island, Nebraska to document the eclipse. The rest of the project involves working with the data and will continue on into the fall. The final results of the project will be revealed in October at the Academic High Altitude Conference hosted by the U of M, Twin Cities.

Building from the ground up

The St. Kate’s ballooning project has been in existence since 2008, when Agrimson attended a regional space grant director meeting at Purdue University. A high-altitude ballooning group from Taylor University sparked his interest in creating a similar initiative at St. Kate’s, and it’s only grown from there.

Rachel DuBose '16, a previous Minnesota Space Grant Consortium Scholar, has watched the St. Kate's balloon team expand tremendously even during the four years she’s been part of it.

“As a first-year, it was just me and one other student,” she says. “No one was there to train me in — we were building from the ground up. So to be able to train in other students on things that I’ve been doing for years and watch the team grow is just amazing.”

By now, it’s a process the team has down pat. First they design and construct "payloads," styrofoam boxes containing data-collection equipment. Along with the payloads, they send up a tracking system and parachute connected to giant, helium-filled weather balloons into the atmosphere. The payloads gather data and capture photos at an altitude of 80,000–120,000 feet, where the balloon bursts and the rest of the contents begin to freefall until the parachute gathers enough air to float the rest of the way down. Using tracking systems, the team follows the balloon throughout the entire process and eventually retrieves it from where it has landed. (View pictures from their August 15, 2014 balloon launch on St. Kate’s Flickr for a glimpse into how it all works.)

Every bit of the process is done "in house." The team writes all the programming and constructs almost all of the equipment themselves. What they don't build themselves, Walter says, they buy and adapt to their needs. As a result of doing everything by hand, the students gain a much more comprehensive and varied skill set.

"It's incredible. I came into this program knowing, at the most, how to turn on an LED and turn it back off with a computer," says Walter. "Now I'm programming radiation counters and wake booms and writing code... It's pushed me to do more than I ever knew I could do."

As for Agrimson — “I couldn’t do it without them,” he says.

Attend the Summer Scholars closing celebration

On Wednesday, August 2, 11:45 a.m.–1:15 p.m., St. Kate's students will present their research projects in Rauenhorst Ballroom at Coeur de Catherine. See what they've been up to all summer!

Summer Scholars 2017 teams


Multimedia Documentary Shorts
Muna Scekomar '18, Ashley Alex '18, Todd Deutsch


Hox Gene Regulation of Sex-Specific Neurogenesis in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Taylor Olin '18, Andrea Kalis

Exploring the Effect of Exercise on Mood and Trust
Sara Brakke '18, Ngozika Ezenagu '19, John Pellegrini


Synthesis and Characterization of 2D Tin Sulfide Nanosheets
Elizabeth Juarez Diaz '18, John Dwyer

Communication Studies

Nationalism and Populism Abroad: France, Germany, and the United Kingdom
Addison Cross '20, Rafael Cervantes


A Reading Guide for Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans
Emma Hargreaves '17, Cecilia Konchar Farr

Exercise and Sports Science

Does Resistance Training Affect Speed of Movement in Older Adults?
Natalie Barron '18, Michelle Perri '18, Joshua Guggenheimer


Extended Symmetric Spaces and Theta-Twisted Involution Graphs of the Alternating Symmetric Group
Emma Holzbach '20, Autumn Mortenson '20, Jessie Lenarz, Kristy Pelatt


Assessing Consumer Knowledge of Added Sugars
Rose Maniates '19, Courtney Vanderheiden '18, Nuala Bobowski

Campus Health and Ideas for the Future
Mary Jane Voss '18, Holly Willis


Stratospheric Thermal Effects Related to the August 2017 Total Solar Eclipse
Vina Onyango-Robshaw '18, Ana Taylor '19, Alynie Walter '18, Erick Agrimson


Community Response to Police Shootings: An Experimental Exploration
Katelyn Byers-Carter '18, Gabrielle Filip-Crawford


Summer Scholars spotlight: Multimedia Documentary Shorts

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

Physics students launch high altitude balloon

Flickr album: 2014-08-15 High Altitude Balloon Launch

By Michelle Mullowney '17