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Local Youth Robotics Team Wins World Competition

Contact: Di Saunders – Office, 503-725-5714; Cell, 503-219-6869
Source: Bruce Schafer, Director, Industry Affairs - Office: 503-725-2915

The Portland team is part of a program aimed to boost pre-engineering skills and interest

PORTLAND, April 17, 2007 – The Oregon University System announced today that a local FIRST  LEGO League Robotics team was awarded the 1st Place Champion’s Award on April 13, at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League’s (FLL) WORLD FESTIVAL held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The team of Portland middle school students, self-named the Pigmice, rose to the top among 94 teams from 22 countries in a contest emphasizing teamwork and technical ability. The Pigmice team is one of 359 teams in the Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program (ORTOP), one of Oregon's fastest growing youth programs, aimed to help students begin exploring science and technical careers at an early age.

The Atlanta world robotics tournament is the top tier in the local, national, and international network of tournaments, at which LEGO robots built by teams of 9-14 year olds compete in a contest, focused this year on exploring nanotechnology and its applications to real world problems. The Pigmice, a Southeast Portland based team, includes six tight-knit 7th graders, three boys and three girls: Flannery Bethel, Hallie Frost, Nathan Fuller, Keegan Livermore and Morgan Pengelly of Winterhaven School, and Olivia Bolles of Da Vinci Middle School. The team is coached by Greg Banks, a builder in SE Portland and Kasi Fuller, a Lewis & Clark College education professor.

The Oregon robotics program is respected widely, and is the largest in the U.S. and Canada, and the 5th largest in the world. Since its inception in 2001, ORTOP has more than quadrupled its participation to over 2,400 students.  Intel Oregon and other Oregon technology corporations and industry associations collaborate with the Oregon University System and major youth organizations to implement the program, part of the state’s broad based effort to “grow our own” Oregon engineers to meet the workforce needs of Oregon’s engineering and high-tech industries.

Bruce Schafer, Director of Industry Affairs for the Oregon University System, says, “OUS extends our congratulations to the Pigmice for their remarkable achievement in winning the top award in the international competition. These students and young leaders clearly have discovered how amazing the field of engineering can be, and have run with it. This is a wonderful testament to the strength of the partnerships that built the ORTOP program, introducing students across the state to the fun and excitement of pre-engineering activities and careers.”

Each year FIRST LEGO League (FLL) defines a challenge that drives team activities. In this year's NanoQuest  challenge, the 2006 FIRST LEGO League teams were expected to explore the mysteries and capabilities of the nanotechnology world. All teams used inexpensive LEGO kits to construct and program working robots to complete as many missions as possible on a 4-foot by 8-foot playing field. They also were required to present research projects on the new scientific frontier of nanotechnology.

The Oregon team shone for the performance of their custom-designed robot, their astounding research on a nanotechnology solution for cleaning up plastic in the Pacific Ocean, and for representing the FLL’s high values of gracious professionalism and teamwork. For their research project, the Pigmice team searched for a nanotech application to clean up degraded plastic particles polluting ocean waters. They learned of a device invented by England-based Iranian professor Ramin Golestanian that could self-propel in water, added nanoprobes to it to capture the plastic pollution, then built a LEGO model of the device to present at the tournament. Their robot performance at the tournament showed the team’s quick-thinking; they overcame a problem with one of their robot’s wheel during Thursday's practice runs to post a perfect 400 score. In addition to the triumph of the 1st Place Champion Award and, of course, the trophy, the Pigmice team was awarded an all expense paid trip to visit the IBM Almanden Research Center in California.  The team plans to spend the coming year as program ambassadors to inspire other students to form LEGO robotics teams and assist by mentoring them.

Cathy Swider, ORTOP Program Administrator for the Oregon University System, who attended the Atlanta tournament, says “The overall champion prize is a remarkable achievement because it means the team excelled on all levels; the judges were blown away by the depth of our students’ research project and deeply impressed by their teamwork and graciousness.”

For more information on the Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program, go to www.ortop.org. For information on the Pigmice team, including their projects, and a photo of the members, go to www.pigmice.org.

Oregon University System comprises seven distinguished public universities, reaching more than one million people each year through on-campus classes, statewide public services and lifelong learning. For additional information, go to www.ous.edu

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