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    Paper (Origami) Balloons: an Alternative to Latex Helium Balloons
    High School Lab Experiments & Background Information
    For Science Labs, Lesson Plans, Class Activities & Science Fair Projects

    This experiment is courtesy of 

    Latex Helium Balloons
    Any Alternatives?


    Sister Frances Boyle RSM
    West Catholic High School
    Archdiocese of Philadelphia

    Dr. Eugene Dougherty
    Rohm and Haas Company
    Bristol, PA

    Grade Levels:

    Grades 10 through 12


    Chemistry, Physics


    To use scientific method to search for an alternative to helium balloon releases.

    Specific Objectives:


    The student will:

    1. Discuss the latex balloon release controversy.
    2. Review the minimum mass of container to mass of helium ratio needed to lift a balloon.
    3. Review suggested alternatives to the latex balloon.
    4. Offer suggestions/models for alternative balloon.


    Newspaper articles, rather than scientific journals, turned up as sources of information on this topic during a computer search of relevant data bases.


    In 1987, science teachers, Susan and Peter Hibbard, in Toms River, NJ founded the Balloon Alert Project after finding a white latex balloon inside a dead leatherback sea turtle. They never claimed it was the principle cause of death but stated that industry could not say that it did not cause the animal's death.

    Balloons have been found littering the beaches. In 1990, Linda Maraniss, regional director of the Center for Marine Conservation in Austin, Texas says annual beach cleanup drives have collected tens of thousands of balloons nationwide.

    Mark Brown, director of communications for the National Association of Balloon Artists in Jacksonville, Florida, says most helium balloons climb about five miles high, where they burst into tiny pieces of latex. He states that latex is a natural, biodegradable material that decays at about the same rate as oak leaves.

    Under pressure from children and environmentalists, several state legislatures and the National Park System have banned balloon releases. Sales in the industry are way down.

    The Dream Balloon Company of Tokyo, Japan has developed a paper balloon made of thick pulp that is oiled on the inside to prevent helium leakage. The balloon's material can be ingested safely by microorganisms and can dissolve in water. To remain airborne, the balloon requires a 70-cm diameter due to the heaviness of the material. Before marketing the balloons in the spring of 1992, the company is attempting to improve the material to create more practical and smaller balloons.

    Using the computer program, Mathcad, the mass ratio of maximum mass of balloon to minimum mass of helium needed for lift is 7.401. Calculations are attached.

    One method of creating a paper balloon is to use the oriental art of origami. Directions are attached.


    1. Discuss the controversy introduced in the introductory material.

    2. Discuss the alternative of a paper balloon.

    3. Discuss the following results of experimentation:

    Experiment A:

    A lunch-sized brown paper bag was discarded as a possible balloon material because it weighed 7.28 g and could not possible contain a gram of helium to satisfy the needed ratio.

    Experiment B:

    Various materials were shaped into origami balloons as described in attached materials. They were not successful helium balloons.

    a. Wax paper - 11.9" x 11.9" square weighing 3.1016 g held helium, but not enough to lift the balloon.

    b. Erasable typing paper - 4.5964 g may have held helium but too stiff to inflate evenly when helium added

    c. Art paper - 12.83 g. held helium - but volume not large enough to lift balloon.

    d. Accuwipe� - 3.2233 g. - couldn't hold helium even when oiled with household oil.

    e. Plan your own alternative to a latex balloon. Try it out, using helium under teacher's supervision.



















    This program computes minimum diameters required for paper balloons.

    1. Compute design criteria for ordinary latex balloons.
    2. Compute volume of the minimum size balloon that provides lift.

    Now solve the ideal gas law equation for He in balloon.

    Now use the lab result for weight of container.

    Given a weight of oiled paper, what is the minimum diameter balloon we can make?

    Try origami first.

    This experiment is courtesy of 

    My Dog Kelly

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    Last updated: June 2013
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