Science and youth: FIRST nanotechnology challenges kids and volunteers


Motors, drives, motion control process control

FIRST Lego league inspires young people to pursue careers in science and technology.

Manchester, NH —Volunteers are recognized as an integral and vital part of the way in which young people connect to the real world, and volunteering to promote science can be particularly rewarding. Volunteers are being sought as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) launches its biggest-ever FIRST Lego League (FLL) season with the unveiling of the 2006 Nano Quest Challenge.

FLL is an international program for 9- to 14-year-old children created in a partnership between FIRST and The Lego Group in 1998. Each September, FLL announces the annual challenge, which engages children in authentic scientific research and hands-on robotics design. Using Lego Mindstorms technologies and Lego play materials, children work alongside adult mentors to design, build, and program robots to solve real-world challenges. After eight intense weeks, the competition season culminates at high-energy, sports-like, team-based tournaments.

Inventor Dean Kamen devised the FIRST concept in 1989 to spark young people’s interest in science and technology. He used the paradigm of a sports competition after realizing that, while science and technology education provide one of the surest and most lucrative career paths for young people, children are far more attracted to careers in professional sports. He reasoned that, while relatively few of those who aspire actually succeed in sports professions, sports stars’ high visibility makes such careers seem more accessible than they actually are. By setting up sports-style competitions for those who excel in technical pursuits, Kamen hopes to inspire young people to technology-based careers.

Every FLL Challenge reflects an important real-world issue as a way to show students how science and technology can contribute to solving problems. Nano Quest presents nanotechnology in understandable terms, highlighting the many diverse and positive ways it promises to enhance or revolutionize existing technologies to solve problems and invent things never thought possible. Teams of children will use robotics to explore nanotechnology and the solutions this newest frontier of science and technology can make possible.

FIRST collaborated with the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science & Technology and the Cornell University Nanobiotechnology Center to help shape a theme and challenge missions that reflect real issues in the study of traditional sciences at the molecular level. These include manipulating individual atoms, clothes that never get dirty, an elevator to outer space, and cures for disease.

Volunteers are at the heart of the FIRST program. For the 2005/06 season, more than 45,000 volunteers contributed in areas including mentorship, event management, recruitment, and team management. Mentors benefit from renewed inspiration and a reminder as to why they chose science, technology, engineering, or math as a career.

Engineers and scientists interested in becoming involved in the FIRST program can click here to get more information about ways to volunteer.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
C.G. Masi, senior editor

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