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Students and Their Robots Immersed in Science and Technology

Top student teams compete in the first-ever National SeaPerch Challenge

A robotics team from Bloomington High School in Indiana took first place at the first-ever National SeaPerch Challenge, held in late May 2011, at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa.

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and managed by the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) that trains teachers and provides a curriculum to instruct students on how to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in in- or out-of-school settings. Students build their own ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science terminology and principles with an ocean and marine engineering theme.

Sea Perch Challenge well capping winning team

Judge Lt. j.g. John Harrop, from the USS Pennsylvania, times the team from Bloomington High School South in Bloomington, In., during the Cap the Well competition at the National Sea Perch Challenge at Drexel University. The Bloomington team won the competition.U.S. Navy photo by Public Affairs Specialist Joseph Battista

At the National Challenge, top robotics teams from middle and high school districts and student interest groups with established SeaPerch programs participated in a two-day series of events, which included team presentations, a vehicle underwater obstacle course, and a simulated sea-floor oil spill that required teams to cut the flow, cap the well, and conduct recovery operations.

The winning team was recognized by the attendees of the Navy’s Intelligent Ships Symposium, which took place in Philadelphia at the same time.

The teams were required to use their SeaPerches to navigate an obstacle course, cap a well and recover the spilled oil (represented by plastic wiffle golf balls), and prepare a poster presentation about their ROV design and solution. “The middle school students are judged by their posters alone, but the high school students must make an oral presentation before a panel of judges who also may ask questions,” says Phil Kimball, the former executive director of SNAME and now SeaPerch National Challenge program director.

Kimball said the teams won regional events to get to the championships, so they have experience. “They are all winners,” Kimball said.

Sea Perch obstacle course

The team from STEM Middle Academy in Silver Spring, Md., navigates the obstacle course at the National Sea Perch Challenge. U.S. Navy photo by Public Affairs Specialist Joseph Battista

“This event was the realization of a dream – four years of building programs one by one until we had a critical mass of enough programs to host a national challenge, and it exceeded our expectations,” said Executive Director of the SeaPerch Program Susan Giver Nelson.

SeaPerch has grown as a fun and educational teaching tool over the past few years. “The program has come a long way, and because of the program’s expansion to 38 states, it was time to have this national championship,” Kimball said.

The Navy has a vested interest in nurturing future engineers and scientists, said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Nevin P. Carr, Jr. “Science, technology, engineering, and math is a very important area for us because none of this happens without a healthy scientific, engineering and technical base of talent. Today that talent might be in the 4th or 5th grade, and they need to be inspired to pursue the hard, important, technical careers. And, once inspired, they need to be assisted and nurtured, sometimes in the form of scholarships and fellowships, and in some cases, mentored.

“For those engineers or scientists interested in starting a community SeaPerch program, I would say there couldn’t be a more satisfying activity that not only teaches basic mechanical and electrical skills through hands-on learning, but allows the student builders to test, balance, operate, and compete against other teams in a clean, fun, and wholesome interactive environment, Kimball said. “To know that you might have sparked a lifelong love of learning, and opened the eyes of just one student to a future career as a scientist or engineer, is its own reward.”

The 2012 SeaPerch National Challenge will be hosted by the Prince William Public Schools at George Mason University in Northern Virginia.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...