Electronic Exploration From Earth to Space
Mariana Gómez & Martin McCormick

The principal objective of this Club de Ciencia is to experience a week of intense engineering and scientific exploration focused on electronics, by building experiments for sensing and analyzing signals in the natural environment and by promoting the use of e-waste as raw material to generate inventions! Experiments are dynamic and evolving where all participants contribute with ideas, discussion, design, testing and analyzing their own hypotheses. It is not necessary to have a mathematical or scientific background and is primarily a hands-on do-it-yourself course.
Taught in English.)

The land of Merida has a unique connection between earth and outer space because of the massive Chicxulub meteor impact that occurred here nearly 70 million years ago. In this hands-on CdeC, we’ll build electronic sensing systems to learn more about both from our own direct measurements.

We will start by exploring modern electronic devices that would have ended up in the landfill--taking them apart and understanding how they work--perhaps giving them a new life! From there we will learn how to program Arduino microprocessors to measure our own electrical sensors--for example, GPS, resistivity, temperature, pressure, humidity, ion counts, ambient light, battery levels or acceleration.

These sensors will then be used in two science experiments:

(1) An earth resistivity measurement instrument which will allow us to determine whether a plant needs watering (and possibly water it automatically!). We will also learn how this technique is applied in geophysical field work and Yucatan ground water studies, data visualization and interpretation.

(2) A space balloon launch where a payload box filled with our sensors is attached to a very large helium balloon and released to rise into the stratosphere (30km+)! From this altitude, the blackness of space and the curvature of earth are clearly visible and will be photographed with a camera.

Canada can’t have all the fun! Let’s send our Mexican CdeC mascot into space!

We will dive into many different topics:

These topics are not presented in separate blocks, but are interwoven throughout the workshop.

In the process, we'll all have to work together to solve some interesting science & engineering problems. The balloon will rise to 30km (3x the highest passenger jet planes!), encounter frigid temperatures of -50C and increased solar radiation!

Some questions we will need to answer:

Ground Resistance Treasure Hunt

Geophysical techniques make it possible to see into the earth without digging or drilling. In karst hydrogeology (as Yucatán), such techniques are particularly useful to identify fracture zones and other structures below a sediment cover, and to localise appropriate sites to drill pumping wells. Geophysics can also be used for many other investigations, such as determining overburden thickness, which is crucial for vulnerability assessment.

One very important geophysical technique is the Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT). The purpose of electrical surveys is to determine the subsurface resistivity distribution by making measurements on the ground surface.

In this workshop, we are going to construct our own electrical resistivity meter which will allow us to discuss about geophysical field work, data visualization and interpretation.

Space Balloon

In this activity we attach a box filled with electronics to a very large helium balloon and release it to rise into the stratosphere (30km+)! From this altitude, the blackness of space and the curvature of earth are clearly visible and will be photographed with a camera. For example: this.

The balloon will carry a styrofoam box filled with an Arduino-based sensor payload. It will rise to the “edge of space”, experiencing an environment of -50 deg C and less than 1% atmospheres. We will include sensors based on everyone’s ideas. Possible interesting sensing quantities include: temperature, pressure, humidity, ion counts, ambient light, battery levels, acceleration.  

We will assemble the payload, including an Arduino-based APRS+GPS radio tracking circuit board that is soldered together and built from components. The Arduino will connect to various sensors that are included in the payload and an antenna and camera are added.

The APRS tracking system uses Amateur Radio to send GPS location beacons periodically.  We can track this with our own radio receiver on the ground, allowing us to recover the payload when it lands (balloon pops in approximately 3 hours). Also any amateur radio members in the area that have APRS systems will automatically report our beacons on the internet (here).

Approximate Course Schedule

Monday, Enero 5th

Tuesday, Enero 6th

Wednesday, Enero 7th

Enero 8th

Enero 9th


Introduction & electronics take-apart.

Overview of resistivity in soils moistures and discussion of geophysical methods

and Inversion problem.

- Space balloon project overview including physics of ascent.
- Overview of the APRS tracking system.

Final preparation of launch payload. Connecting parachute.

Search team reports find results and search pictures.


Take-apart & collecting useful parts.

Develop design for resistivimeter.

Constructing Arduino-based sensor platform.

Move outside to set up launch site.

Team analyzes data collected from sensors.


Setting up Arduinos, learning to program them.

Build resistivimeter.

Constructing Arduino-based sensor platform.

Final tests of tracking system, sensor data, cameras.

Pictures collected and edited for presentation.


Hooking up sensors and making measurements.

Outdoor experiments, data collection.

Testing APRS tracking system.

Helium filling and Balloon Launch!

Preparing presentation.


(buffer time)

Discussion of results.

Cutting out holes and assembling payload, camera, antennas,

- Initial tracking and telemetry downlink observation.
- Search team deployed

- Results texted to group

- Others monitor on http://aprs.fi website.

(buffer time)


Space Balloon

Introduction: http://www.ukhas.org.uk/general:beginners_guide_to_high_altitude_ballooning

Learn about the APRS tracking system: http://www.aprs.org/

Flight prediction software: http://predict.habhub.org / UWYO

Sensors: https://www.sparkfun.com/tutorials/185

Examples: http://www.mit.edu/~adalca/SpaceCam/, http://www.1595dragons.org/balloon.html

Earth resistivity meter

Introduction: http://www.geo.mtu.edu/~ctyoung/LOKENOTE.PDF

Construction: http://www.geotech1.com/pages/geo/projects/erm2/erm2_150.pdf 

Electrica Resistivity Tomography (ERT) in a in a Mayan pyramid http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/09/25/ciencias/a02n1cie