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The Great Robot Race

Budding engineers from Roberto Clemente Middle School create and race underwater robots.

Germantown Indoor Swim Center took exceptions Tuesday evening when they allowed nonhumans into the pool for an underwater clash of robotics created and controlled by students.

The robot race was part of the Excel Beyond the Bell Middle School Initiative, which teaches students in area schools real life applications for concepts learned in the classroom. The program is a collaborative effort among Montgomery County Recreation Department, Montgomery County Public Schools, and the Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families.

Event organizer Uche Abanulo, of STEM (Science Technology and Math) Afterschool Academy, used kits donated by the US Navy to create sea perches similar to the one BP used to help plug the oil leak off the Louisiana coast in 2010.

Abanulo said apart from learning aerodynamics and measurements, students also learned teamwork, as they had to work in pairs.

“In general, we are trying to make sure that they have an interest in STEM but with this competition they will also learn how to negotiate things with team members and how to solve problems,” she said.

Although sixth grade student Raisa Niederhelman and her teammate Mark Herron did not win, they said they had a good time learning new things like drilling holes and circuitry. The team’s best experience during the 10 weeks it took to create their perch was soldering because they got to play with hot metal.

“I learned how to lay six wires on an area the size on my thumbnail, Niederhelman said, “and then I had to do it a second time over because we had closed off the circuits and electricity was not flowing.”

Winners Matthew Yoon and Soham Sen exchanged high fives when their perch became the first to reach the opposite end of the pool while submerged in water. They said they put a lot of work into making the perch and were happy they won.

“It took a while for us to get it but it was all worth it, even intellectually because we built the perches ourselves,” Sen said.

Yoon said he started dreaming of the next contest in January before he got the chance to place his hands on the first place award — a science kit.

"You can never have too much learning,” Yoon said. “I want to make more and more and more. I can’t wait for the next one and the next one and the next one.”

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