The FIRST organization — inspired by inventor Dean Kamen — and the Lego Group are sponsoring the 2006 Nano Quest Challenge, and sadly for the rest of us, it seems to be limited to kids 9-14 years old, plus 6 to 9-year-olds in the junior league in US and Canada. But wait — all the teams need adult guides, so some of us grown-ups have found a way to get in on this. There are 169 teams competing in California alone, and 32 countries are listed on the international page. From Control Engineering:
Nano Quest presents nanotechnology in understandable terms, highlighting the many diverse and positive ways it promises to enhance or revolutionize existing technologies to solve problems and invent things never thought possible. Teams of children will use robotics to explore nanotechnology and the solutions this newest frontier of science and technology can make possible.
FIRST collaborated with the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science & Technology and the Cornell University Nanobiotechnology Center to help shape a theme and challenge missions that reflect real issues in the study of traditional sciences at the molecular level. These include manipulating individual atoms, clothes that never get dirty, an elevator to outer space, and cures for disease.
There are two parts: a Robot Game, which involves performing various robotic movements, and “The Project”, a more general nano-themed challenge with lots of freedom.
The connection of the Robot Game missions to nanotech is sometimes a bit tenuous, and may not teach how things actually work at the nano level, but perhaps it’s not unreasonable to focus on getting the kids excited about science and technology in general first. They can learn chemistry and physics a bit later.
You can look up the time and place of tournaments near you. Here’s one near me: 16 teams competing at Google in December. Go cheer on budding nanoengineers near you! You may even spot talent worth recruiting in a few years. —Christine