Fifteen upper-division physics students spent time earlier this month calculating how many balloons it would take to fill unsuspecting President Richard Hagood's office from floor to ceiling. The answer? 4,249.
NNU physics students conduct experiment in president’s office
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Nampa, Idaho
How many balloons does it take to fill up a university president’s office while he is away?

That is the question students from Northwest Nazarene University’s (NNU) solid-state physics class were determined to find out while President Richard Hagood was out of the office earlier this month. Under the fearless leadership of their professor, Dan Lawrence, 15 upper-division physics students put their knowledge to the test.

Each semester the course is offered, one office is selected for the experiment. In years past, balloons have welcomed faculty and staff such as the dean of the school of health and science, Dan Nogales. This year, however, students decided the new office d├ęcor could serve as an early retirement gift for NNU’s president.

Scheming with the president’s secretary, students measured President Hagood’s office and the dimensions of larger objects such as the desk and book shelves. Over the weekend, students calculated the volume of one balloon and the necessary packing fraction to figure out how many balloons it would take to completely fill the office.

Because balloons are spheres, they will not fit together perfectly like cubes. By calculating the packing fraction, students accounted for the space in between each balloon, and estimated it would take approximately 5,000 balloons and about two hours to fill the 335 square foot room from floor to ceiling.

Michael Wheatley, senior engineering physics major stated, "Filling President Hagood's office with balloons is an exciting challenge because it lets us have fun applying what we’ve learned in class while also showing President Hagood our appreciation for all his hard work at NNU."

Upon the president’s return, several physics students stood by to see his reaction…and of course, to help him clean up the 4,249 balloons used to fill his office.