Dec. 6, 2006
 
West Virginia Students Go Atomic at Robotics Competition
 
By HNN Staff
 
Wheeling, WV (HNN) -- Hundreds of young robotics engineers from throughout West Virginia are about to descend on the Wheeling Jesuit University campus Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006, in hopes of entering the mysterious world of the atom.
 
For the second year the Center for Educational Technologies(r) will host the West Virginia FIRST LEGO(r) League robotics tournament (www.cet.edu/robotics). Nearly 400 youngsters ages 9-14, their coaches and family members along with judges will visit the Wheeling Jesuit University campus for the competition, which will earn winners an invitation to April's FIRST LEGO League World Festival in Atlanta.
 
The public is invited to attend the competition for an up-close look at LEGO robotics. A high school team from Delbarton, WV, also will be on hand all day, demonstrating its larger-than-life robot.
 
Last year 19 teams from across the Mountain State came to Wheeling. Highlighting this year's event will be opening remarks from Dr. Eric T. Baumgartner, dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio Northern University.
 
He joined Ohio Northern in July after serving 10 years in various technical and management positions at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was on the team responsible for the design, development and operation of the two highly successful Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. In 2004 Baumgartner was honored with the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for his efforts on the Mars Exploration Rover project.
 
Baumgartner will also serve as a judge at the tournament. Judges are still needed, in fact. Contact Meri Cummings at meri@cet.edu or at 304-243-2499 to volunteer.
 
Two teams from Wheeling will compete. Other teams come from all parts of the state, including Morgantown, Charleston, Barboursville, Parkersburg and Matewan.
 
The FIRST LEGO League competition (http://www.firstlegoleague.org/) asks teams of children ages 9-14 to demonstrate problem-solving and research skills, creative thinking, teamwork, competitive play, sportsmanship and sense of community as they build robots that can perform the functions required in the competition. In September teams learned the theme of this year's competition, Nano Quest, and have had about 12 weeks to prepare. The activities in Nano Quest use LEGO robotics to simulate the strange world of individual atoms seen through a super high-powered atomic microscope. Judges score the teams in five areas: research and presentation, robot performance, technical mechanics of the robot's construction, teamwork and gracious professionalism.
 
The competitors use LEGO building blocks and a special programmable brick to construct the core of their robots. LEGO MindStorms team challenge robotics kits let teams add moving parts. Then the students create programs to perform a series of tasks with their robots.
 
Founded by inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was created to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. FIRST LEGO League was created in a partnership between FIRST and the LEGO Company in 1998. More than 48,000 children participate in the program.
 
The West Virginia event is funded through grants from the Mid-Atlantic Region Space Science Broker, the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, American Electric Power and LEGO education. The broker (http://marssb.cet.edu/), which is also housed at the Center for Educational Technologies, brings scientists and educators together to share NASA space science discoveries with students and the public. It serves West Virginia as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
 
The Erma Ora Byrd Center for Educational Technologies (www.cet.edu) houses cutting-edge educational technology in its 48,000-square foot facility. The center is also home to the NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future, the space agency's principal research and development center for educational technologies, and the Challenger Learning Center(r), one of 51 worldwide established by the Challenger Center for Space Science in memory of the space shuttle Challenger. It provides students, teachers and adult learners with simulations that emphasize teamwork, problem-solving, decision-making and communication skills.