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Kids Learn STEM by Building Underwater Robots

About 450 elementary and middle school students were in Lehi today competing to see who could build the best underwater robot.  The event is part of an annual competition that gives students a hands-on introduction to science, technology engineering and math or STEM education.

Ashton Adamson and Brenna Pope are sixth graders at Snow Springs Elementary School in Lehi. They’re sitting poolside, where Adamson says they’re preparing to submerge their robot named Nemo into a tiny obstacle course. 

“So when it goes inside the water, it’s supposed to open that red gate and it’s supposed to pick up as many hoops and flower thingies as possible,” Adamson says. “If the things fall off then we lose points.”

The girls are simulating a real-life scenario, in which researchers send robots to the bottom of a reservoir to investigate potentially hazardous materials.

Randy Hurd is a mechanical engineering student at BYU. He says students are learning about electronics, buoyancy and propulsion based on an Office of Naval Research program called SeaPerch, which includes a kit for a basic underwater robot model. 

“We’re hoping every year to step a little further away from this set model to get more and more creative designs,” Hurd says.

Most of the robots look basically the same. There is some duct tape, PVC pipes and motors. But it’s clear that some work better than others.

BYU Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Tadd Truscott says kids are capable of accomplishing amazing things at an early age.

“But we tend to hold them back because we’re like, ‘oh you’ve got to know this principle before you can play’. But that’s not true right? If you give kids a bucket of sticks, it’s possible they might build a tower taller than an engineer,” Truscott says.

Truscott says the number of kids participating in the event has doubled since the program began last year. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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