It is said that Thomas A. Edison tried almost a thousand times before he finally found the right combination for an incandescent light bulb.
Failure is part of the story of scientific research, and some Brighton High School students recently experienced that downside.Mike Lehman and Steve Bleak accompanied their teacher, Brent Boswell, to the White Sands Missile Range at Almagordo, N.M., recently, to see one of their own experiments launched in a sophisticated Air Force high-altitude research balloon.
Also at Almagordo were another Brighton teacher, John Barainca, with three of his students, Troy Stevenson, Jodi Nelson and Kerri Martin. The trio had created a video camera with closed focus lens to measure ultraviolet light.
"They hoped to see changes in the ultraviolet exposure at different altitudes," Boswell said.
The two experiments shared a canister that went up with the weather balloon - but not high enough and not long enough.
The balloon was designed to ascend to 90,000 feet and stay there for six hours.
Instead, it blew up at 40,000 feet with the Brighton experiments aboard. A parachute allowed it to descend again without any damage to the equipment.
The blow-up wasn't the first glitch in the research, said Boswell. While the canister was being moved from a building to the balloon launch site, a momentary power failure turned computers off, interfering with the temperature program.
The 45 minutes worth of temperature data that was actually retrieved "was not very impressive," Boswell admitted. Steve and Mike's device was designed with a temperature sensor that was to feed data to the computer every 15 seconds and record it on a cassette.
Barainca's students got a second chance several days later. After the first failure, they left their ultraviolet device in Almagordo with Gilbert Moore, a USU adjunct professor who has promoted the student involvement in space experimentation. Moore shepherded it through a second launch of the high-altitude balloon, which was successful. The balloon actually rose to about 92,000 feet.
Despite the failure of Air Force scientists to get their balloon up and down as planned on the first try, Boswell's students found their participation in such a major activity worthwhile.
"It was worth the effort," said Mike. "We learned what it's like to take part in a large experiment and not have it go as you planned."
Steve agreed that overall, they had discovered that "you can do what you put your mind to. I was fascinated (by the experiment). I wanted to know how we could do what we wanted to do."
The balloon's failure couldn't erase the valuable lessons the students had learned as they worked out problems, one by one, en route to the final device.
Brighton High has earned a reputation for student research. To his knowledge, the school is the only one at its level to send experiments into space, Boswell said. Early this year, the Weber SAT a satellite that is still in orbit, carried a Brighton experiment aloft. It will be circling Earth for approximately 50 years.
For several years, Brighton students and teachers have collaborated with Utah State University and Weber State College to design space experiments that went aloft in space vehicles, including Getaway Specials - non-military research packages put aboard NASA space vehicles.
While in Almagordo, Steve and Mike spoke at an advanced physics class at the local high school.
"We told them about our experiment - the components we used," said Mike.
"I think they were impressed," Steve added.
Brighton's participation in national research efforts are impressive, but other student work that goes on in Boswell's advanced electronics class is also first-rate.
"We give them challenges and let them find solutions," Boswell said. "We try to create a real world setting for problem-solving."
"We make it all and we're proud of it," said Boswell.
In May, Brighton may get another opportunity to participate in a national research effort. `It may be the temperature experiment again, or we may try something else," Boswell said.
On one day recently, projects in one busy, technology-filled Brighton High School classroom - all computer controlled and all made by students from the ground up - included:
- A vending machine with voice synthesizer.
- A plotter that directs a pen to make intricate designs. Its accuracy: within 1/200th of an inch.
- A wind direction indicator.
- A light detector with two sensors that measure the intensity of light and move to the most intense. The science has applications for such things as heating buildings.
- A lighted sign board that flashes a variety of messages.
- A rain sensor.
- A laser show in which laser beams flashed off mirrors are computer-directed to create patterns on a screen.