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Children show how a waterfall might power a TV in LEGO event at Cornell

Hordes of children swarmed the lobby of Duffield Hall, Jan. 26. They shot paper rocket ships into the air and launched hover-gliders off the upper-floor crosswalks, while peppy music pumped in the background. For the second year in a row, Duffield played host to the Junior FIRST LEGO League Expo.

The children, ages 6 through 9 and hailing from various towns in New York and Pennsylvania, gathered to experience aspects of engineering as both a fun and educational activity. The event was sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway Human Transporter.

According to Dan Woodie, lab use manager at the Cornell NanoScale Facility and the event's coordinator, the goal of the expo was to inspire children to develop teamwork, to learn to solve real-world problems and to get as excited about science as they tend to be about sports.

All told, about 90 children on 17 teams competed in creating a LEGO model and a poster demonstrating the flow of energy to an appliance from an original source. Projects ranged from tracking cotton from the field to a candle's wick, as well as the beeswax used to make the candle itself, to how waterfalls might power televisions or how windmills provide power for a toaster.

All of the teams received an award, such as the SpeidieBuilders from Binghamton, who dissected the inner workings of a candle and received the Crazy Bee Award.

The children also played in various activity booths, sponsored by the Nanobiotechnology Center, where volunteers taught them how to make hover-gliders out of common household objects, to construct 3-D shapes out of straws and paper clips, and how to create "plankton" out of washers, paper, string and marbles that would float suspended at neutral buoyancy.

"Cam's mom asked us if we liked LEGOs, and we said yes, and here we are!" said third-grader Annika, from the team EAC Rocks, of the EAC Montessori School in Ithaca. Her team would later win the Flying Windmill Award for their demonstration of wind power.

"The whole idea is really interesting," said Alex Roth '09. "I enjoyed seeing the kids so enthusiastic about LEGOs and science."

Ellie Rosenberg, team leader of the Tigers from Ithaca's Beverly J. Martin Elementary School and mother of participant Irena, said, "I found out about it in the newspaper and thought, 'What a great idea!'"

The event was co-sponsored by the Ithaca Sciencenter, the Nanobiotechnology Center and the Duffield Hall Nanotechnology Center.

Jennifer Wholey '10 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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