Hot Air Balloon Science Kit

Noelle LaVoie, Jimmy Davidson, David Mankin, Brent Bartels, Jill Kamienski

Scientific Content

We all learned that temperature and wind are major factors in a successful balloon launch! Although we heated the balloon thoroughly, the temperature difference between the air inside and outside of the balloon was not enough for it to fly. The instructions for building the balloon included information about the history of hot air ballooning as well as a scientific explanation for why hot air balloons work, so in principle we know what should have happened. Our major critique of this kit is that it doesnt say what outside temperature is necessary for the balloon to fly apparently 70 degrees was too hot, since our balloon didnt fly.

This kit is targeted at anyone between 6 and adult, but unsupervised 6 year olds wouldnt have much chance getting the balloon together. Working with the fragile tissue paper was tedious and our group managed to tear it once. Since no extra tissue paper is included, extreme care is needed. The tissue paper also sticks together through a few pieces when glued. Some possible solutions for these problems, which would make the kit more accessible to younger children, would be to include extra tissue paper and a special glue stick which doesnt seep through the paper as much. It seems more likely that older children, working in groups with adults, are an appropriate target audience.

Nuts and Bolts

The instructions were easy to follow, very thorough and included diagrams which were helpful. We had few problems putting the pieces together (except for the ones mentioned above). This kit is definitely not designed for a single person to do at least 3 people are necessary to make it work smoothly, and probably 4 or 5 to make it easy. The kit should be labeled for use of groups! After building the balloon and trying to fly it, you are left with a huge pile of blue tissue paper if you did want to try it again later, you would need a large storage space. If the balloon flew, and got tangled in a tree or anything else happened to it, it is fragile enough that you may not be able to use it again. With extra tissue paper though, it would be easy to build again, since the patterns included in the kit can be reused.

Aesthetic Appeal

The kit was fun to use and pretty motivating. It is designed for kids to decorate with markers or paint, but since the paper is a very dark color it would be hard to decorate with markers. It would be nice to include more than one color of tissue paper, or at least to use a lighter color that could be colored on. It is easy to destroy the balloon, so reuse does not seem to be the goal of this kit!

Future Development

Some specific suggestions for improvements of the existing kit are included above. A website would be interesting, so that you could watch a balloon fly and maybe see a more interesting presentation of the scientific material, maybe as a QuickTime movie, etc.... (watch a balloon fly while listening to the explanation). Keeping the weight of the balloon low is important to help it fly better, so it may not be possible to add anything to the actual balloon. Including a thermometer for inside and outside of the balloon would be useful and help to demonstrate the difference between the hot air inside and the cool air outside. If information about the optimal heat inside, given the temperature outside, could be generated, and used to time the process of heating the balloon (for example, when the inside is hot enough, compared to the outside temperature, you are alerted to release the balloon) it might increase the success rate of flying the balloon.

Over all, this kit is fun, but would have been a lot better if we had been able to fly our balloon after building it!