Giving Chase to a Science Project

A WILL crew tracked and filmed the recovery of a weather balloon that was part of a class science project.

WILL-TV educational outreach director Molly Delaney and TV producer George Hovorka chased and filmed the recovery of a weather balloon this week that was part of a junior high school project.

Science teacher Emily Dawson and her junior high students at Riverview Grade School in Peoria are pushing the boundaries of their classroom to the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere. In an exciting, hands-on learning experience, the students launched their own weather balloon 100,000 feet up to collect weather data, take photos and see their world from an entirely new perspective.

The launch took place Wednesday, May 22, at the Caterpillar Inc. Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in front of an audience of 300 students from East Peoria, Metamora and Brimfield. Students gathered at 9 a.m. for set-up, assembly and related activities, and the launch took place around 10:50 a.m. Teachers, students and citizens everywhere will be able to witness the morning’s activities, from set-up to loss of visible flight trajectory, through a webcast on the WTVP-Public Media website. Watch a video of the launch.

Molly and George looked for the balloon for more than two hours after it landed. A transmitter that was to have helped them find the balloon didn't work. Finally, Dawson discovered the balloon in a field near Princeton, Ill. Molly and George hurried to the location, and shot video and took photos.

"When we learned the GPS wasn't working on the balloon, we weren't going to give up, and kept looking around the projected impact area," said Molly. "Emily saw it off the side of the road on Route 26, and gave us a call." They recovered the shredded balloon, parachute and data collection box.

The launch is the central focus of a multidiscipline unit on weather, using science, language arts, and literature classes cooperatively to plan, research, analyze and report on the real world application of the information taught within the classroom. It was inspired by an activity on the Illinois PBS LearningMedia site for teachers and students.

The school project was made possible through funding from PNC’s FirstGrant to Riverview Junior High teachers Emily Dawson, JoAnn Lowry-Emery and Luann Kuehn. The FirstGrant program is designed to help classroom teachers throughout central Illinois accomplish creative and innovative projects they would otherwise be unable to fund because of budget limitations, and it is supported by the Ruby K. Worner Trust and the PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group.

The helium required to fill the balloon was provided by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and arranged by WILL-TV. The launch site and equipment are courtesy of Caterpillar Inc. Production and broadcast made possible by WTVP-Public Media with support from WILL.