LINCOLN — It takes a lot of work to gain the privilege of standing on the field at Memorial Stadium on game day in front of 85,000 fans.
It takes dedication, hours of practice, weeks of preparation.
But the cheers Saturday weren't just for touchdowns, and a football wasn't the only flying object.
A group of students and teachers led one of the biggest science experiments Husker Nation has ever seen.
During halftime, the group released three high-altitude balloons, also known as weather balloons.
The balloons, 8 feet in diameter and typically filled with helium, floated to heights of up to 20 miles into “near space” to collect data. Astronaut Clayton Anderson of Ashland, Neb., assisted with the launch.
One balloon carried specimens of E. coli, red and white blood cells, oranges, motor oil and experimental planting seeds.
A second carried special devices to collect environmental data so students could measure such things as air pressure and cosmic rays. The third carried an identification banner of the different groups.
The data were expected to fall to Earth a couple hours after liftoff.
Michael Sibbernsen, science and technology coordinator at the Strategic Air & Space Museum, said near space is an area in the atmosphere where conditions are very cold and relatively similar to those of outer space.
Many of the experiments measured how near space and high altitudes affect the specimens. Thanks to a NASA grant, such research is now accessible to students and teachers in Nebraska.
Teams have been working together since school started. Many of the students were selected because of their interest in science.
Christina Argo, a teacher at Bryan Middle School in Omaha, said most of her students were selected because of their participation in the Science Olympiad competition. (The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will host the 2015 Science Olympiad National Tournament.)
Andrea Gonzalez, an eighth-grader, is a member of the Bryan team.
“Our project will test oranges and see if the acidity will decrease or increase,” Andrea said.
Argo said that while her students didn't have much time to prepare (they began when school started a couple of weeks ago), they did an amazing job and learned a lot about science. She hopes they can do more projects in the future.
“Science isn't always something you learn in a classroom — you learn out in the field during experiments like this,” she said.
Also represented in the balloon launch were UNL, UNL Extension 4-H, the Lincoln Public Schools and the NASA Space Grant Office.
Fans can see the course the balloons took and video and photos of the launch and landing at go.unl.edu/balloon.
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