October 19, 2009 9:19:00 AM
Tim Pratt -
The buzzing of power tools echoed down the empty corridor in Mississippi State University''s Simrall Hall Friday night, though no classes were in session.
It was the sound of more than two dozen Starkville area teenagers working diligently on a robot for a statewide competition.
Starkville Christian Home Educators, a group of home-schooled middle and high school students, is competing this year for the third time in the Boosting Engineering Science and Technology competition. Mississippi State, which is hosting the state BEST competition beginning Oct. 30, is allowing the teens to use the facilities in Simrall Hall to build their robot under the supervision of mentor and MSU professor Michael Lane. Two team parents also supervised the students in the workshop.
"We count all their fingers and toes before they leave," Lane joked.
When complete, the group, known as "Team Eclipse," will have a radio-controlled robot which they hope will be able to navigate a course, pick up moving objects, then transport and organize them for the contest. The premise behind this year''s contest is "High Octane" and teams will be instructed to gather items which represent different things, ultimately bringing about a chemical reaction and an alternative form of fuel.
A tennis ball, for instance, will represent the catalyst; a tomato paste can will represent energy; a beach ball will represent carbon dioxide; a racquetball will represent water, and so forth. Combined, the items will represent the elements needed to create the alternative fuel.
Team Eclipse in September began work on the robot, which must fit inside a 24-square-inch box. The team spent Friday night working on the robot''s base and wheels.
BEST organizers donated the motors to power each team''s robot, as well as other materials, but Team Eclipse is responsible for building a booth and gathering the items necessary to make it happen. They''ve spent the past few weeks searching for sponsors.
Team president Justin Burger, 17, led his fellow students in the workshop Friday night, drilling holes in wood, sanding down metal parts and performing a number of other tasks. A few floors down, students worked on computers, composed reports and worked on other aspects of the project.
The team will be judged not only on the performance of the robot, but on the group''s overall performance, including its project engineering notebook. Team members have to show all the work they have done on the project in the notebook.
Groups also will be graded on an oral presentation, their display at the contest and their spirit and sportsmanship, among other things. Some teams even bring their school bands to the contest, said Niah Jamerson, 17, the Team Eclipse member in charge of marketing.
Although Team Eclipse members are split up around Simrall Hall, they get together at the end of each work session to discuss what they accomplished. Judges could quiz team members on any aspect of the project, even about a part in which the student wasn''t involved, Jamerson said.
"You really have to know what you''re doing," Jamerson said.
"We have to look like we know what we''re doing, and we actually have to know what we''re doing," added team member Taylor Teague, 17.
Both Jamerson and Teague were on Team Eclipse last year when it qualified for the regional BEST competition in Auburn, Ala., and they hope to do so again this year. The team must come in first or second place in the overall BEST competition, or first place in the robotics competition to qualify for Auburn, Lane said.
"Right now I''m pretty hopeful because we''re doing pretty good right now," Jamerson said. "We''re doing better than I thought we were going to do. I went into this and I was like, ''Maybe we''ll get fifth.'' But now I''m seeing they''re in there, they''re building the robot, we''re getting out there, we''re ready to build the booth. I see all this coming together. It''s like I feel the pieces coming together. I feel like we can actually win this."
The team is further along at this point than they were last year, Teague said.
"Last year it was like the night before the competition, throwing the robot together, ''Oh dear Lord, please let it work,''" Teague said. "Now our team is more experienced so we have more of a schedule, we''re more serious, we have more of an idea of what we''re looking at."
Starkville Christian School also has a team in the contest, Jamerson said, and will be one of about a dozen state teams attending the local competition at MSU.
For more information on the contest, visit http://best.eng.auburn.edu. Information on Team Eclipse can be found at www.starkvillechristianhomeeducators.com.