WEST FARGO - Jon Bruhschwein wants to be a scientist when he grows up. But instead of honing his skills in a lab, he got to watch his latest science experiment fall 500 feet from an airplane on Thursday, Aug. 17.
As part of a Discovery Express Kids program in collaboration with Skydive Fargo, Bruhschwein and other students crafted homemade parachutes that were dropped from an airplane at West Fargo Municipal Airport.
Bruhschwein, an upcoming fifth grader from Horace, and the other students applied STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons to make the parachutes attached to bags of flour in the hope that the bags would survive the fall.
"You have to be so precise, and if it isn't, your parachute isn't going to work at all," Bruhschwein said. "I've always wanted to make something people would test, and right now it's happening for me."
Bruhschwein was among seven fifth and sixth graders, the other six being from the Richland School District, in this four-day program.
Erin Nyren is the founder and CEO of Discovery Express Kids in Fargo, which conducts after-school STEM projects in area schools. Nyren said STEM can be boring to kids, but she tried to make it exciting with this project and wanted them to translate numbers to building something.
"It's kind of the ultimate test of the thing you created," Nyren said. "I have some very bright students who are willing to work very hard and want to stretch their brains and go more advanced, so I wanted to go supersized."
Nyren said the students studied the science of drag - force that opposes an object whatever directions it's moving - and how drag applies to parachutes. They collected data and tested different materials to try to find the right parachute design.
Using materials that can be bought from local stores, the students built their parachutes on their own and learned how to engineer something strong and complex enough to withstand the drop. The students drew out patterns and then crafted hemispherical parachutes out of tarp.
Nyren acknowledged she didn't think Skydive Fargo would approve of the project when she proposed it last winter. But Chris Gourde, president of Skydive Fargo, said he was glad to work with enthusiastic students.
Gourde hasn't seen kids programs like this very often, so he took the chance to show the kids his gear, how to open a regular parachute and jump out of a plane and let them grab the controls of a plane on the ground.
"Here, they're actually using science," Gourde said. "They're actually testing different materials, lines and weights to make sure the material they're going to use is the best they can find."
Bruhschwein said it was exciting to work with parachutes even if it took some work.
"To be honest, it was really hard. I've got to admit that," he said. "We had to do a lot of math just to calculate the sizes of tarp just to make our parachutes, but the parachute that came out of it was worth it."