Middle school STEM students send seeds soaring above Miami Valley

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FARMERSVILLE, Ohio (WDTN) – Seeds and soil from the Miami Valley took a ride above the clouds. They were exposed to the elements through a different layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.  

A grant from Bayer Fund’s America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education allowed Valley View Junior High STEM Teacher Jill Weaver to purchase more materials and launch another weather balloon into the stratosphere.  

“It’s super exciting for me to be able to offer opportunities like this for kids,” Weaver said. “Having that grant-funded was very pivotal in them having these kinds of experiences.” 

“I’ve learned more about the atmosphere and how different all of the layers of the atmosphere can be,” seventh grade student Cheyenne Bird said. 

It was the third balloon launched this year with the help of Wright State University.  

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“Our first one was about 80,000 feet and the second one which was about four weeks ago was 71,000 feet so we are hoping for 100 and above this time,” Weaver said.  

“It’s really fascinating actually,” seventh grade student Claire Barnett said, “to see the wind patterns and how quickly it comes off the ground. It’s gone in a second. You don’t even see it anymore.” 

The experiments, seeds and soil are being sent into the stratosphere to learn how space travel may impact plant growth.  

“We are kind of hurting the earth right now. So, we’re trying to find out if we can live on Mars, starting off with plants,” Barnett said. “We need that for the oxygen, so that’s the big step if we can figure out how to grow plants on Mars.” 

“We’re just looking at differences between what grows here on Terra Firma and what happens if it’s exposed to the stratosphere,” Weaver said.  

The seeds from the previous balloon launches are growing in a greenhouse at the school.  

“Kale seems to be the most vibrant grower of anything that we’ve grown so far, but everything is still growing,” Weaver said. “We’ve noticed a little bit of a difference in how quickly the seeds germinate but other than that everything is still growing.” 

This time the students also added soil that simulates the surface of Mars.  

“They actually did some rock hammering and crushed up some lava rock and some other things,” Weaver said. “We’re going to try to see if that will grow. So, we’re looking ahead to the moon and Mars and beyond.” 

“My dream has always been to work at NASA so doing this has really helped push me towards that,” Bird said.

In addition to seed, soil, weather instruments, and cameras, the balloon also carried experiments designed by the students.  

“We put some UV beads on the outside to see how they would react to sunlight if we put sunscreen on some of them,” Barnett said. “What sunscreen is actually effective and how much it would work.” 

The balloon is being tracked and it will be retrieved. The students will gather the results of their experiments and the third generation of seeds exposed to the stratosphere can begin growing.  

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