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Weather-related accidents and conditions

Great demonstration at the geography building yesterday, and our colleague Jessica Luton shares the story:

The UGA Geography building lawn looked more like a setup for a child’s birthday party or a carnival than a research project Thursday afternoon as students gathered around a red and yellow bounce house.

The students, who are both undergraduate and graduate students studying atmospheric science, are taking a summer geography class meant to introduce students to the research process first-hand.

Taught every other year, the class teaches basic research skills on varying weather-related topics with associate professor and undergraduate coordinator John Knox as a mentor. This year, students are studying the meteorological and policy contexts of bounce house accidents, a phenomenon that has garnered some recent attention in the media

Bounce houses and other inflatable amusement devices are known to be vulnerable in windy weather. Knox and his young researchers hope to determine what weather conditions are optimal to avoid bounce house accidents and look at policy changes, such as better safety guidelines, that might help prevent weather-related bounce house injuries.

The class has compiled reports on 40 weather-related bounce house injuries in the past nine years. The inflatable structures have been lofted into the air or blown over in dust devils, waterspouts, post-cold frontal winds and outflow from thunderstorms. Students will collaborate and conduct research using the data and then co-write a publishable paper together once the class has finished.

“If we’re doing research, I thought the students ought to see how bounce houses are set up and anchored,” said Knox. “This is a research class, but I try to make it fun and this is one way to do that.”

Students learn about everything from the scientific method and conducting research to the ethics of writing a research article. Knox and some colleagues had long-wanted to conduct research on the topic.

“This class is meant to help students do research, but it also helps generate research on topics that are considered low-hanging fruit,” said Knox, who has held the class five times so far, each time on a different research topic.

“I needed the research credit for my atmospheric sciences certificate, but it’s also a great opportunity to get a guided tour of how to do research,” said Nicolas Bagley, a senior atmospheric sciences student. “But we also hope that our research will lead to policy changes on this topic.”

Bagley hopes to pursue a career in weather forecasting or to pursue a degree doing graduate research. A class such as this, and the opportunity to do research, may help him make an important next decision.

“This is just a really great opportunity to get my foot in the door on conducting research,” he added.

Links to stories about bounce house accidents:

Update: also good coverage of the event at the Red and Black.

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