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Teaching people about the elements isn’t necessarily obvious but is vital in order that humans can make the best use of nature’s gifts. Powerful and InvisibleNear Santiago in Chili, at the Adolfo Ibañéz University, industrial and civil engineering students are designing an eco-friendly balloon. It all starts with waste bags. Michelle Finot, one of the students, explained: “We want to use the fact that air is essentially a fluid. It exists, and it makes the balloon fly rather than staying on the ground. What this exercise does is make us put into practice the theoretical knowledge that we’ve learned at university like Archimedes’ principles, and our knowledge of pressure. The idea is to make a balloon that can fly and carry 5 kilos.”To be counted as successful the balloon has to travel 10 metres in the air. Having a sound knowledge of thermodynamics is essential. And of course, all the balloons have to be eco-friendly.Gustavo Cáceres, the tutor, said: “Generally the more expensive the materials are, the more carbon dioxide they emit. But it’s hard for the students to calculate the cost of materials. But they can calculate operating costs and carbon emissions while the balloon is in the air.”Recycled kite surfing materials, recycled bin bags, all sorts of things can be used. Using a hair drier to inflate the balloons makes things quicker, but using methane gas is more eco-friendly. And in the end, some balloons fly and some of them don’t.Omar Matus, another student, described the experiment: “Sellotape and bin bags deteriorate as the temperature rises inside the balloon. AIr pressure is very strong, although becasue we live with it, we don’t notice it. But the force is incredible. The fact that the balloon rose proves that we built it correctly.”All of which means that although flying balloons might look like hot air, it’s a great way to train tomorrow’s environmentally friendly engineers.Beautiful and DangerousThe New York Fire Department is known all over the...