At the Potomac School in McLean, Va., this past school year, 13 seventh- and eighth-graders signed up for a biweekly science elective that proposed this challenge, reports the Washington Post: Take a photo of the curvature of the Earth and spend just $200 to do it. Science teacher Bill Wiley knew the kids could research online what tools they would need, including a weather balloon and a styrofoam cooler. But that was the easy part. They still had to figure out how to put it together. “I figured there was about a 60 percent chance they would pull it off,” Wiley said. In the end, the group got incredible pictures. And the experience of launching and tracking the device was like a scene right out of Hollywood, Wiley said, as the kids tracked the device in real-time using a student’s iPad. The students met every other week throughout the year. They started with a digital camera, which they programmed to shoot photos and video several times a minute. They bought a cell phone that had a GPS function and loaded software that regularly relayed the phone’s location to the internet through a program called InstaMapper. Both phone and camera went in the cooler, along with hand warmers to keep the electronics warm in the stratosphere, where it would be 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Finally, the kids had to figure out what angle to hang the cooler so that the camera would get shots of the Earth’s edge, not just a bunch of clouds. “It pushed all their math ability,” Wiley said. On the day of the launch, four students drove with Wiley to Chambersburg, Pa., to launch the balloon and its payload. Wiley had asked the kids to bring their laptops so they could use Wi-Fi signals to get online and track the camera’s movements on InstaMapper. But seventh-grader Will Prout brought his father’s iPad, which was able to connect to the internet through a regular cell-phone network. That meant they could follow the signal while driving around. “I didn’t expect we would use the iPad that much, but it really saved us,” said Will, 13…

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Maya Prabhu