ESRL Global Systems Division

Earth Systems Research Laboratory - Global Systems Division: Outreach/Education

Demonstrating NOAA Science with Marshmallows and Balloons

Demonstrating NOAA Science with Marshmallows and Balloons

NOAA Boulder Outreach Coordinators at the Sally Ride Festival in Colorado Springs
GSD's Andy Loughe demonstrating cloud science to a group of eager Scouts.

El Paso County Fairgrounds in Calhan, CO was abuzz last weekend (April 24-26) when some two hundred bustling Boy Scouts from the UTE district of the Pike's Peak Council set up for their annual spring camporee. In support of this year's science and technology theme, NOAA was present to teach the youth about weather concepts and safety during the event’s hands-on education activities. Andy Loughe of ESRL's Global Systems Division impressed his captured audience with experiments about air pressure and cloud development and dissipation. A long-time Scouter and teacher of the Scouting weather merit badge, Loughe also distributed "thunder tubes" and brochures to raise awareness of lightning safety since Scouts often encounter severe thunderstorms first hand.
 "We couched our whole learning experience in terms of scientific experimentation and hypothesis development and testing," said Loughe.  "We started off by observing how high and low pressure affect  inflated objects (balloons and marshmallows). Then we moved to cloud development experiments and showed how high pressure and low pressure affect the dissipation or development of small clouds." This was achieved using a small air compressor and a large, bell-shaped glass jar that was subjected to small amounts of condensation nuclei (dust particles) and water vapor (water).
The participants were very surprised by some of their incorrect hypotheses; thinking, for example, that reducing external pressure would reduce the size of the marshmallows and balloons or generally believing that high pressure was associated with poor weather.  "Seeing that 'ah-ha' moment was especially cool," said Loughe.  "If you can demonstrate the fallacy of these mistaken hypotheses, it’s easier for kids to internalize their own observations. This is active learning, not just rote memorization of facts."