Team Offutt assists high school students with high aspirations

  • Published
  • By Delanie Stafford
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Members of Team Offutt assisted high school students from Bellevue West High School with a year-long experimental project designed to collect meteorological data high over the skies of Nebraska.

"Our project is to study dust above Nebraska and the implications," said Janis Elliott, a Physics instructor at Bellevue West High School who monitored the student's project. "Our kids think they will probably have the highest quality dust sensor in the metro area from what we've done research on."

Project HALON, which stands for High Altitude Learning over Nebraska, is part of a program sponsored by NASA through the University of Nebraska intended to develop new research platforms.

Altogether, five different sensor packages were developed by students from the University of Nebraska, Bellevue West High School and Omaha North High School. Early on, Bellevue West students contacted Offutt for assistance.

"Our students reached out to Offutt last fall, and we received military support in technical and communication expertise," Ellis said.

The students met with weather experts, programmers and information technology specialists from the 557th Weather Wing and Northrup Grumman throughout the year where they received feedback and guidance.

They also presented their project at an Armed Forces Communication and Engineering Association event held at Offutt earlier this year where they made connections with industry professionals.

"They were able to present to the whole chapter what they were doing," said U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Tyler Brooks, who is a deputy flight commander for the 55th Communications Squadron and the project liaison for Offutt. "That allowed them to network with a lot of people from Northrup Grumman and the [557th Weather Wing]."

According to the students, the most exciting part of the project was experiment day April 14 where they launched a weather balloon carrying the five sensor packages.

Once airborne, the sensors were expected to record data such as wind speed, temperature and dust particles in the air and then stream it back simultaneously to a mission control center manned by students at the Peter Kiewit Institute on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. Other students were assigned to track the weather balloon by vehicle and recover the sensors once the balloon popped, which was expected to occur at an altitude of 80-100 thousand feet.

The students were excited to see if their project would work and enjoyed learning about the different technology. But according to many, the biggest takeaway was the collaboration needed to make it all work.

"The greatest thing that I've achieved through this is all of the student collaboration that we put in," said Monica Pham, who is a senior at Bellevue West and one of the project directors. "It was student led, and we created this project that we can really call our own."

"One of the students said that he never knew that engineers communicate in so many ways," Ellis said. "For those students, they think they just do math and science. The reality is the communication piece was very interesting to our students."

The students hope the experience will also take them to higher places down the road.

"I feel like it's going to open up some doors," said Logan Van Antwerp, a junior at Bellevue West High School. "Working with Peter Kiewit has really got us into the world of technology. Being someone who wants to go into this field, it's really helping me learn."

The students will analyze the data collected by the sensors for a final research report that is due later this month.