The balloon flew out of sixth-grader Taylor Colding's hand like a shot.
The white balloon, 2 meters wide, was carrying equipment that cost about $200. It would fly up into the atmosphere, more than twice as high as commercial airplanes, before bursting and plummeting back down to earth, broken.
But this was not bad news for Taylor.
In fact, letting go of that balloon was exactly what he needed to do to help Gannet Hallar, director of Storm Peak Laboratories.
Hallar, along with Tim Lim of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, were in Robin Bush's sixth-grade class at Hayden Middle School on Tuesday to continue a lesson started in the fall, when the class visited the lab.
The students gathered around the laptop in the back of Lim's truck to watch the GPS readings and barometric pressure sensor as the balloon ascended into the atmosphere.
"It's really cool seeing it go that high that fast, and how it's able to take all that data in with such a small device," sixth-grader Brandon Dorr said.
The excitement of the students is an important teaching tool for Bush because it means the students are more involved in the class.
"What they remember when they do activities like this is far superior to just what they would remember if they were just writing," she said. "I want to get these kids thinking that this is science ... and to jump-start their enthusiasm."
Hallar said she was pleased the NCAR grant was approved. She applied for it earlier in the year but only recently learned she had won the chance to have Lim visit.
The pair of scientists released about a half-dozen balloons and sensors at schools in all three Routt County school districts to reiterate atmospheric lessons taught when the students visited the lab during the fall.
The release of the weather balloons also will serve a second purpose for Hallar, who will use the data collected by Lim to better understand the layers of atmosphere in the Yampa Valley.
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