Physics professor explains HARBOR at seminar

Physics professor John Sohl spoke Wednesday to Weber State University students on the different projects the WSU Physics Department have going and how they are important. The presentation was part of a seminar series in the physics department meant to teach students what exactly goes on with the physics part of science, involving student projects that are required for senior seminars.

This particular presentation was about the High-Altitude Reconnaissance Balloon for Outreach and Research. The HARBOR is a NASA-styled research tool used to measure weather patterns in the ozone layer.

“This is a mission-oriented project where we have specific goals for flight, and everybody as a team has got to work together in order to be able to make this flight take off,” Sohl said.

The HARBOR project started in August 2007, and since then, it has been on 21 flights. The last flight was the highest, at 111,000 feet above sea level. These flights have taken place in four different states.

Sohl said there is a real concern about aviation safety. In the process of pre-flight and in-flight procedures, Sohl said the HARBOR team has called the Federal Aviation Administration about 17 times to make sure everything works right.

The flight equipment consists of radios, an ozonesonde and a housing beacon. After launch, the team finds the point right under where the flight is occurring, making it easier to follow the balloon.

It starts out at about seven feet in diameter and grows to about 30 feet the higher the package gets. Through a Go-Pro camera, it captures the ozone layer of Earth and showed a view of space as well, also providing a way to measure the weather system.

After the end of a recent flight, the ozonesonde was missing.

“We were going to try and use a radio signal to find it,” Sohl said.

Two members of the team used a plane to search for it, yet never found it, resulting in a loss of equipment that cost $750. Sometimes the equipment from the flight scatters, making it difficult to recover all of it.

Along with the flight project, other projects under active design include the environmental test chamber, which is an opportunity to do flight testing before taking equipment in the air. There is the ozonesonde and the High-Altitude Stratospheric Aerosol Measurement, both NASA-funded projects. There is also a project for measuring carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and cyanide.

Shane York, a physics major at WSU, has been involved with the HARBOR program since his freshman year. York said the program has helped him to understand how the real world wants him to be working, and that real-world applications with missions, communication and deadlines are valuable.

“I like how it’s so broad; I can do math, electrical engineering and data analysis, and studying physics helps me learn all those skills,” York said.

York is currently designing a circuit board to turn on pumps at different altitudes as the balloon is descending.

Another student involved in the program is Spencer Shupe, who works with the carbon-dioxide sensor. Through the sensor, he collects data on pollution in the air that is a potential cause to the greenhouse effect.

“We’re trying to find what’s actually causing the greenhouse effect, and what we can do to avoid that,” Shupe said.

Sohl said students who work in the projects don’t have to be science majors.

“We have things that artists can do, things that Web designers can do and things that computer science majors can do,” Sohl said.

Web design and computer programs can be used for data.

Physics seminars will be taking place every Wednesday to the end of the fall semester. Other departments in the College of Science will hold seminars in the future where students will present their projects and educate others on why their data is important.

“It’s been a very enjoyable project to be a part of, and a lot of the students enjoy it and have a good time,” Sohl said.