Students recreate historic hot air balloon experiment

March 29, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A pair of Purdue University and McCutcheon High School students will measure cosmic rays across altitudes of up to 10,000 feet from a hot air balloon on Saturday (March 30) to commemorate Nobel Prize winner Victor Hess's experiment 100 years ago.

Chris Kraner, a senior studying physics at Purdue, and Stephen Claypool, a senior at McCutcheon, will take measurements throughout their two-hour ride using cosmic ray detectors provided by QuarkNet, a high school teacher professional development program. Winamac High School teacher Jeremy Wegner and Purdue physics professor Matthew Jones, who also is co-director of Purdue QuarkNet, will accompany the student pair in a second balloon. David Sederberg, Purdue's director of physics outreach, who coordinated the event, will follow in a third balloon to record it.

The teams will take off at 7:30 a.m. at the Metropolitan Airport in Fishers, Ind. located at 9913 Willowview Road.

In a series of experiments from 1911 to 1913, Austrian scientist Victor Hess measured ionizing radiation at different heights while aloft in the gondola of a hydrogen-filled balloon and showed that radiation came not from the ground, as was the thought at the time, but from the sky. Hess concluded that the radiation came from outer space and called it "cosmic radiation." In 1936 Hess was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for this discovery of what are now called "cosmic rays."

Claypool has been working with the Purdue physics outreach team since the 2012 summer after his physics teacher, Cheryl McLean, participated in a weeklong QuarkNet Summer Institute about cosmic rays, their detection and analysis, said Sederberg. Claypool plans to attend Purdue in the fall to study computer information technology.

Kraner was chosen to participate based on his contributions to in Purdue's QuarkNet program, including crafting experiments and supporting teachers in their use of the detectors and classroom materials.

The Purdue physics outreach program arranged the event with help from balloon companies Midwest Balloon Rides and Stars and Heights.

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081,

On site media contact: Tim Brouk, 765-977-3931,

Source: David Sederberg, 765-494-0740,

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NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The hot air balloons will travel approximately 30-40 miles and the landing sites will not be known until Saturday morning. The route can be obtained Saturday morning by contacting David Sederberg at 219-406-6779 or Elizabeth Gardner at 317-698-9879.  The group will begin set up at the Metropolitan Airport in Fishers at 7 a.m. and will return to the airport following the ride by 10:30 a.m. Interviews may also be done at the landing sites. A map of the airport with parking and take off sites is available at

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