Zack Hutchens Launches High Altitude Balloon

Incoming physics major, Zack Hutchens, launched a weather balloon to detect and count muons as a function of altitude. Zack will graduate from the early college program at Davidson County Community College in May 2016 and will join the Department of Physics High Point University in Fall 2016.

Zack employed two geiger counters (with lead shielding), a Raspberry Pi, and SparkFun sensors to measure pressure and temperature. He programmed the Raspberry Pi to count and record muons detected by the geiger counters and to record pressure and temperature.

Physics majors and SPS members Joseph Godoy, Ryan Hegedus, and Michael Welter helped Zack launch the balloon from Sugar Valley Airport. Dr. Titus’ Prius supplied the electrical power.

The balloon’s peak altitude was nearly 25,000 m (more than 75,000 ft).


At just over 15,000 m, the counts of muons per minute (cpm) leveled off and dipped. Then at over 22,000 m, the cpm significantly increased with altitude.


Temperature decreased with altitude, leveled off at about 13,000 ft, and then increased with altitude starting at about 21,000 ft.


The payload landed hard, but all of the equipment inside survived the landing. The balloon landed a few miles east of Burlington, NC, about an hour drive from High Point. The GoPro camera ran out of memory, so we did not get photos at peak altitude.

Zack presented his results at the NC Region 5 Science Fair in February, 2016.