Sky-High Radish Experiment Takes an Unfortunate Squirrely Turn

Gracious Greenhill School sixth-graders share results from balloon experiments

Apparently radish seeds are safer above the stratosphere than potted radish plants on ground level in a science teacher’s yard – at least when squirrels are involved.

That unintended lesson came after the conclusion of a science unit in which Green Hill School sixth-graders worked with StratoStar of Noblesville, Indiana, to send batteries, memory cards, markers, a pickle, yeast, and radish seeds for a weather balloon ride.

We first wrote about the experiments for the STEAM section in our January issues, but those went to press before the students finished comparing their high-altitude payloads to the control group of items that remained on the ground.

Here’s a look at what the students found out:

The batteries, memory cards, and markers showed no visible or performance changes despite harsh conditions faced during a trip that took three hours to surpass 100,000 feet and 15 minutes to fall to the ground. During the journey, temperature varied from 60 degrees to minus 25 and humidity readings from 55% to less than 1%.

The pickle, on the other hand, had a new texture, possibly from losing some water content, though verifying that would take more tests than the students had time to complete.

 Yeast survived, but not all of it. Students mixed the yeast with sugar and hot water and captured the C02 gas produced in balloons. The balloons filled by gas from the control-group yeast grew larger.

Radish seeds also survived, though the plants sprouting from the ones that made the trip hadn’t grown as tall as the control group by Christmas break.

“The students doing the radish seed experiment also decided that if the United States or a collaborative of nations build a colony on the moon, that radish seeds might be able to grow in a greenhouse on the moon and not be too affected by the greater solar radiation there,” teacher Susan Eve said. “I was delighted that they connected this experiment and the results to something beyond the scope of this learning experience.”

Less delightful: the fate of the 36 young radish plants Eve took home and successfully transferred to pots over the winter break.

“Then on a warm sunny day, just before Christmas I decided to put them out in my yard to enjoy the sun,” she said. “When I returned a couple of hours later, I found three FAT squirrels polishing off the last of the tender radish shoots. Sadly, that was the end of our experiment, but the local squirrel population was pretty happy with my folly.”


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William Taylor

William Taylor, editor of Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People, shares a name and a birthday with his dad and a love for community journalism with his colleagues at People Newspapers. He joined the staff in 2016 after more than 25 years working for daily newspapers in such places as Alexandria, Louisiana; Baton Rouge; McKinney; San Angelo; and Sherman, though not in anywhere near that order. A city manager once told him that “city government is the best government” because of its potential to improve the lives of its residents. William still enjoys covering municipal government and many other topics. Follow him on Twitter @Seminarydropout. He apologizes in advance to the Joneses for any angry Tweets that might slip out about the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL season. You also can reach him at [email protected]. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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