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SHSWeatherBalloonOriginally Published The Nugget News May 10, 2016
Author Erin Borla

Students in Rima Givot’s Chemistry 2 class had the opportunity to work with scientist Steve Peterzen throughout the last two weeks to launch a 600-gram balloon – complete with experiments they designed – and capture live data.

Peterzen’s company, The ISTAR Group, just opened a satellite office at Sisters Eagle Airport. ISTAR launches stratospheric balloons for the purposes of testing experiments in near-space conditions. Using Helium, Peterzen and his crew launch the balloons into the atmosphere with tools and instruments in order to allow for companies to experiment and to introduce students to near- space research for a fraction of the cost and time of launching a satellite.

“I’ve been all over the world,” said Peterzen. “I’ve enjoyed working with the kids – but it’s funny because I never finished school. I was in college and knew I wanted to study science, but I saw all my friends taking jobs in physics and focusing on only one specific thing. I wanted to travel.”

Peterzen has lived throughout the world, including nine years in the Antarctic launching stratospheric balloons. From 1992 to 2001 ISTAR successfully managed 14 separate 800,000- cubic-meter balloons from Antarctic and launched over 20 smaller balloons.

According to ISTAR’s website, they were contacted in 2001 by the Italian Space Agency to manage and lead the development of the first long duration balloon program in Europe through the University of Rome La Sapienza.

Currently, ISTAR is based in Svalbord, Norway. Norway offers ease of access to the arctic and incredible infrastructure. Since connecting with the University of Rome the company has launched 13 balloons from their Nobile/Amundsen Stratospheric Balloon Center.

Peterzen, through Bob Collins and Cal Allen of theSisters Science Club, connected with SHS Science teacher Rima Givot last year. 2015 was the first year he worked directly with her chemistry


“This year, the students have taken a more active role,” says Peterzen. “It’s been hard because we have only had two weeks to study, discuss and develop their experiments.”

Last Wednesday, both Givot’s chemistry classes met at Sisters Eagle Airport to launch their experiments with one of the smaller 600-gram latex balloons. Everything had to be right; the barometric pressure, the weather, the cloud cover, and the wind speed.

“This balloon we used today is significantly smaller than what I launch,” says Peterzen. “The larger balloons could house the entire high school and take a 70-foot crane to


Those larger balloons have the capability to circumnavigate the planet. In fact, in June of 2006, ISTAR launched the first circumpolar balloon flight which measured the flux of the earth’s magnetic field.

Givot and her classes were hard at work on Wednesday putting the finishing touches on their experiments, checking the weather, taking notes, and readying the


The high school’s two different experiments went up around 9 a.m. from Sisters Eagle Airport.

The experiments were carried by the latex balloon and armed with a GoPro. The balloon traveled miles before it was collected by the “student retrieval team” near Maupin that same afternoon. Next week, the students in both classes will review the data collected and analyze it.

“This has been an opportunity for our students to apply the concepts they learn in class in a hands-on way,” said Givot.

“It has been an amazing opportunity for student-directed research and to apply to real life what they have been learning in the classroom.”

Recently, Peterzen has been working with Sir Julian Knott, a balloon historian from the United Kingdom. It is his hope that he can put together a team of students consisting of 10 Flemish students, 10 students from the United Kingdom and two high school students from Sisters to join him at a balloon launch from his base in Norway in September.