Pinnacle High School students launch helium balloon Into space
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Pinnacle High School students launch helium balloon Into space

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  • Elaina Verhoff/Gordon C. James Public Relations

Devin BOoker

At 7:15 a.m. on Friday, March 31, Pinnacle High School physics teacher Mike Vargas and his students launched a helium weather balloon and attached payload into near space, where it reached 97,000 feet!

The students were able to experience this hands-on science project thanks to a $2,500 STEM mini-grant Vargas received from APS and the Phoenix Suns. Vargas and his students utilized a Styrofoam basketball to contain the payload made up of GPS tracking equipment, a GoPro and an image of Devin Booker.

Vargas was notified that he received the STEM grant in the fall, and says the support was instrumental in funding the purchase of the weather balloon, helium tank, and GoPro camera, which recorded video from the launch.

He says the experiment gives students the opportunity to apply what they learn in physics (vectors, velocity, acceleration, freefall calculations) to build a model and predict where it lands.

“The goal of every mission is to get a photo of the curve of the earth and gather measurable data for our students to analyze, and we did it.” Vargas said. “The STEM mini grant program is incredible and made a huge difference on our campus with our kids…thanks to APS and the Phoenix Suns for your support!”

Vargas says he has seen this project generate a true interest in “doing real science” and he knows of three or four Pinnacle High School graduates who participated in the experiment in the past and went on to become college science majors.

One of the first girls who joined the experiment three years ago recently graduated and will be coming back to observe, in preparation for a future career as a science teacher.  Prior to coming to Pinnacle, Vargas worked in Brussels, Belgium for ten years as the science teacher and basketball coach at a high school for children of NATO employees.