Youngsters and their robots explore how engineering meets medicine

November 29, 2010

Hundreds of middle school students to compete in FIRST LEGO League state championship tournament

FIRST LEGO League “Body Forward” Challenge State Championship Download Full Image

Coordinated by ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Opening address on the impact of biomedical engineering by Dr. Leland Hartwell, Nobel Prize recipient and co-director of the Center for Sustainable Health at ASU’s Biodesign Institute

Saturday, December 11

Arizona State University, Tempe campus,
Memorial Union Hall, Arizona Ballroom (2nd Floor)

It’s all about helping young students develop problem-solving skills, sparking their interest in engineering, science and technology, and educating them about careers in which they can pursue endeavors essential to helping the nation stay at the leading edge of innovation.

More than 400 Arizona youngsters from ages 9 to 14 will compete in contests designed to provide hands-on learning and teamwork experiences in exploring real-world issues in biomedical engineering.

Forty schools from throughout the state will send student teams to ASU to showcase robotics projects that demonstrate how engineering and biological and medical sciences are combining efforts to find solutions to health care problems.

The theme of this year’s competition, “Body Forward,” challenges students with robotics projects that demonstrate how engineering and biological and medical sciences are combining efforts to find solutions to health care problems.

Students program LEGO MINDSTORMS robots to explore medical questions involving bone repair, rapid blood screening, development of bionic eyes, nerve mapping, object control through thought, overcoming genetic predispositions to diseases and maximizing the body’s potential to heal itself.

Students’ teachers and families gather as teams vie for the chance to participate in the FIRST LEGO League World Festival, to be held in conjunction with the FIRST Championship, April 27 through 30, 2011 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Regional contests on December 4 to determine participants in the state championship tournament will bring almost 2,000 students on about 200 teams to six different locations throughout Arizona. (See attachment for list of schools participating in regional tournaments).

Championship tournament schedule
•    Opening Ceremony 9 a.m.
•    Competitions 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
•    Awards Ceremony 4:30 p.m.

The tournament will be streamed live through the ASU website at  click on “View Stream Now.”

The event is open to the public and admission is free, but donations of nonperishable food items will be accepted.

•    Amazing custom-built robots come to life in fast-paced, timed competitions
•    Hundreds of festively dressed local children and their coaches putting designs and skills to the test
•    Youngsters interacting with local volunteers and meeting with judges from community organizations
•    On-site teamwork, troubleshooting, problem solving
•    Biomedical engineering research projects on display
•    Enthusiasm and excitement as students, families, friends cheer for their local teams
•    Junior FIRST LEGO League competitors (ages 6-9) display LEGO creations and research project posters at the state championship tournament
•    View the April, 2010 FLL World Festival Photo Gallery

Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRSTTM (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. With the support of many of the world’s most well-known companies, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge for high-school students, FIRST LEGO® League for children 9-14 years old, and Junior FIRST LEGO League for 6 to 9 year-olds. To learn more about FIRST, go to

LEGO Systems Inc. (LSI) is the Americas (North America and Latin America) division of The LEGO Group, a privately-held firm based in Billund, Denmark. The LEGO Group is committed to the development of children's creative and imaginative abilities through high-quality, creatively educational play materials, and its employees are guided by the motto adopted in the 1930s by founder Ole Kirk Christiansen:  "Only the best is good enough."  For more information, visit />

To learn more about the FIRST LEGO League competitions, see"> /> ">

Related websites of Interest:">http://... />"> />

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Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering"> />The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University serve approximately 4,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students, providing skills and knowledge for shaping careers marked by innovation and societal impact. Ranked nationally in the top 10 percent among accredited engineering programs, the schools engage in use-inspired research in a multidisciplinary setting for the benefit of individuals, society and the environment. Its 200-plus faculty members teach and pursue research in the fields of electrical, chemical, mechanical, materials, aerospace, civil, environmental and sustainable engineering, as well as bioengineering, computer science and engineering, informatics, decision systems, and construction management. The schools of engineering also work in partnership with ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and faculty work collaboratively with the Biodesign Institute at ASU, the School of Sustainability and the Global Institute of Sustainability.

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Patricia Smith,
Arizona FIRST Lego League Operational Partner
Coordinator — Engineering Student Outreach
and Retention Program
Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering
(480) 965-5837

Joe Kullman,
(480) 965-8122 office
(480) 773-1364 mobile
Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona  USA">">

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU students bring the fun of Camp Sparky to elementary schools

November 29, 2010

Going to college seems a remote possibility for many fifth graders. But a group of ASU students has set out to change their thinking, by bringing the fun of college learning experiences to them.

Six times a semester, about 80 children from Title I elementary schools in the Phoenix area welcome ASU’s Camp Sparky to their classrooms. ASU students plan a daylong set of “day camp” learning activities at a different school every other Friday, bringing the children to the Tempe campus at least once during the semester. Download Full Image

The goal is to expose them to college students and to higher education, inspiring them to have confidence in their future success. More than half of the youngsters participate in federally funded lunch programs, and many have no family members who attended college.

“This is so fun,” giggled one student from Faith North Montessori School as she toured the campus at Barrett, the Honors College, in November.

“I want to come to ASU,” said another, peering at the live snakes in glass cases at the Life Sciences Center.

Eric Beerman, a sophomore in computer science from Cincinnati, is a program coordinator for the camp this semester. He was surprised at how much he enjoyed working with the children when he first volunteered as a freshman, conducting health activities and teaching about the food pyramid and food labels.

Now he relishes contacting schools to set up dates for the camps, recruiting student directors who can choose their own activity theme. Themes range from economics and math to movies, or even pirates. All activities are built around hands-on learning that ties in with their curriculum.

“The kids have a lot of fun, and their teachers tell us how much impact we’re having,” Beerman says. “I grew up knowing I’d go to college. These kids don’t have that example. We always talk to them about their future. We tell them that you don’t have to be rich to go to college.”

Beerman and the majority of the volunteers are enrolled in Barrett, though the organization is open to ASU students campuswide. This fall they hosted camps at Balsz and Jefferson Elementary Schools, and brought groups from two schools to campus.

Camp Sparky was founded about 13 years ago, and it continues to be entirely student-run, winning nine awards from the Student Organization Resource Center, more than any other group.

Vic Diaz was chair of the project in 2001-2002 when he was an ASU student, and when he became a schoolteacher he arranged a Camp Sparky visit to his class. Now an ASU doctoral student in educational leadership and policy studies, he’s enthusiastic about its benefits.

“Camp Sparky enters these kids’ lives at such an important time, when they still have one foot in the childhood realm and can imagine a world full of possibilities,” Diaz says. “It helps them picture themselves as academically successful young people on the path to college.

“What Camp Sparky does so differently from most other groups is that the ASU students present themselves as students as well, on the same level as the kids they work with. There’s a joy and sense of community. Camp Sparky tells kids that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ about who they are and where they come from, and it’s possible to be themselves and be on the path to college.”

Beerman, who has a 4.0 GPA and has minors in chemistry and math, says he likes working with fifth graders because they’re not yet “too cool” to be impressed by the activities.

“At the end of the day they’re singing songs, very enthusiastic. We have a good time, too.”