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Feb. 16, 2007

Fly Me to the Moon in a Balloon


The designer of a balloon to fly around one of Saturn’s moons will speak at Smith College Feb. 22 and evaluate student balloon designs Feb. 23.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Award-winning balloonist Julian Nott, who holds more than 79 world ballooning records, will take time off from building a balloon for NASA to fly around one of Saturn’s moons to speak at Smith College and evaluate balloon designs by student engineers.

Nott will speak on “Intellectual Courage and Scientific Ballooning” on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Carroll Room of the Campus Center. His lecture, illustrated with remarkable slides, is free and open to the public.

The following morning, Friday, Feb. 23, at 9 a.m., Nott will evaluate scale models crafted by six teams of Smith engineering students as their balloons are inflated with helium for the first time.

The students were given a fictional charge of designing and building a model of a balloon that would carry a National Geographic photographer across the Himalayas to document the Earth’s vanishing glaciers. The guidelines specified that the balloon would need a well-insulated gondola constructed from foam board and an aluminum frame.

Nott will select a winning and alternate team based on the performance of the model, success in meeting the needs of the photographer, safety, scalability, projected cost and aesthetics, said Paul Voss, assistant professor of engineering at Smith, who teaches the course.

Nott has worked on numerous scientific and commercial balloons and airships. His current  assignment to design a balloon to fly in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan came from the National Aeronautics Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Described by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum as “the leading figure in applying modern science to manned balloon design over the last 20 years,” Nott has been the subject of four television documentaries and articles in such publications as The Economist, BusinessWeek and People magazine.

Educated in England at Epsom College, Nott earned a master’s degree in physical chemistry from Oxford University and is an honorary life member of the Governing Body of St. John’s College. He has the unusual distinction of being both a senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics, which recognizes engineering experience, and a member of the elite Society of Experimental Test Pilots, which recognizes experimental flying.

Nott’s visit is sponsored by The Picker Engineering Program, the nation’s first engineering program at a women’s college, and the Office of the Provost/Dean of the Faculty.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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