17:57 PM

Up, Up and Away: ChemE undergrads participate in hot-air balloon challenge

Students in the Foundations of Chemical Engineering class were flying high during a hot-air balloon challenge at the Benedum Hall entrance on O’Hara Street. The sophomore class formed teams and designed balloons no larger than 2 cubic meters that could carry at least a 15 gram payload and stay aloft for 20 seconds.

The project, designed by Professor Taryn Bayles, asked students to apply concepts learned throughout the semester to win “bragging rights” for the best-performing design. They were required to create a mathematical model of their balloon to predict performance and minimize costs. Students considered force balances, ideal gas law, mass balances, energy balances and rate of heat transfer relationships to construct the models.

The resulting projects came in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. The class met outside of the engineering building to test their designs while onlookers cheered them on.

“Using the engineering design process was crucial to the success of our project,” said Josh Pinto. “Constantly innovating and redesigning to perfection was one of the reasons our design worked so well.”

“I thought this project was fantastic. It was a puzzle that we had to solve, but when we finally cracked it, the excitement was unmatched,” said Alexandra Fuller. “It was a fun experience; there were times the whole thing irritated me, but it was that buildup that made the final product and our successful flight all that more enjoyable.”

Fuller’s group was not the only one to face struggles on the way to their final, successful flight.

“My group actually had two designs. Our first design made it to the testing stage and then melted when we tested it,” said Chloe Lovensheimer. “My group quickly had to come up with a new design and we ended up using a new material which was super successful and exceeded our expectations from our mathematical model.”

Students were also able to apply skills from other courses they have taken at the Swanson School.

“I used many ideas from the Art of Making Engineering Design Studio for this project. I specifically remember not understanding how I could form a cube from a sheet of plastic, so I did what we used to do in Art of Making and built a model,” Pinto said. “I decided to cut up paper and keep folding it until it worked. Little tools like that allowed me to overcome each obstacle as it came up.”

In the end, some designs soared high into the sky while others slowly descended under the weight of the required payload. Ultimately, the students were able to apply classroom concepts to a real-world project and gained invaluable experience innovating and designing as part of a team.