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Jan. 18, 2008

Record 70 teams will visit campus for LEGO competition

by Mike Krapfl, News Service

Lego tournament

Competition was tight -- and loud -- at the 2007 FIRST LEGO League Iowa Championship. Submitted photo.

Their missions - like always - seem challenging.

Teams of up to 10 9- to 14-year-olds are to build LEGO robots capable of moving tabletop models that simulate all kinds of energy tasks: harvesting and processing corn, setting up wind turbines, raising a solar panel to the roof of a house, deploying the solar panels of a power satellite, replacing a pickup with a hydrogen car, or 10 other possible tasks.

But show up at the seventh annual FIRST LEGO League Iowa Championship -- it's 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, in Howe Hall -- and you won't find students scratching heads and looking confused.

You'll find them screaming at the fun of it. You'll find them cheering for their teammates and their robots. You'll be surprised at how much of a spectator sport a game of science and technology can be.

Power puzzle

This year's contest is built around the theme "Power Puzzle."

"How do our personal energy choices to heat our homes, fuel our cars, charge our cell phones, power our computers, or even download music to our iPods impact the environment, economy, and life around the globe?" asks a Web page for the international contest. "Which resources should we use and why? Can FIRST LEGO League teams find the ultimate solution to this global Power Puzzle?"

Teams have been working on their solutions for nearly five months. They've programmed their robots and practiced their missions. They've also picked a building, evaluated its energy use, researched ways to reduce its energy consumption and proposed short- and long-term energy solutions. As part of the championship, the teams will report their findings to judges.

70 teams are in; 20 wait

Camille Schroeder -- the coordinator of Iowa State Engineering Kids, a program that promotes science, technology and engineering to elementary and secondary students -- said 70 teams have signed up and another 20 are on a waiting list.

"We will have a full, full house," she said. "We know kids like this. But their coaches get pretty pumped about it, too."

This year's contest includes teams from all over the state and a few from neighboring states. The winner may have the chance to advance to an international competition.

But "this is not just about the tourney," Schroeder said. "It's about the experience these kids have and the work they do."

The Iowa championship is sponsored by the College of Engineering and Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids. It is free and open to the public.

The international contest is sponsored by FIRST, a nonprofit organization based in New Hampshire that's dedicated to inspiring young people to explore science and technology, and by The LEGO Group, the Denmark-based toy manufacturer.


"We will have a full, full house. We know kids like this. But their coaches get pretty pumped about it, too."

Camille Schroeder