Northeastern Engineering Robotics Program Offers Niche to Apply Skills and Engage Youth

February 21, 2008

Group involved with local high school students as part of national program to increase interest in science and technology at younger age

February 21, 2008 – Over the past six weeks, a team of Northeastern University engineering students have been volunteering their time to help high school students design and build a robot.  Last Friday, the team unveiled their robot, which will compete in a regional contest against 50 other robots in March. The Nutrons, the Northeastern team that sponsors this project, is a group of engineering and high school students that are interested in science and technology, and each year, they build a robot designed to overcome specific obstacles during the competition. 

This project is a unique way to encourage young students to pursue their interests in science and technology, and the guidance from the Northeastern engineering students helps them see the project from start to finish.

Nutrons, the FIRST Robotics team at Northeastern, was founded in 1998 by a College of Engineering freshman, and over the years, the team has won both regional and national awards for their robots. FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is the national organization that started promoting robot competitions across the country to help engage high school students in engineering and technology. 

When the annual competition begins, each team is given the same set of materials – and rules – which they use to build the robot. The This year, fifteen students from Boston Latin, Catholic Memorial and Brookline High School traveled to Northeastern after school to work with ten dedicated engineering students, under the supervision of faculty advisor Don Goldthwaite, to design and construct a robot.  

Starting with a computer program, the students design a model that can meet the specific needs of the challenge, and from there, they bring their design to life by building their robot. The challenge this year was to build a robot that could launch a 10-pound ball over several beams to score points during a 2:15 minute match. The robot will be controlled by the high school students during the competition, and as a team, they will work their way through the course and score as many points as possible during the allotted time.

Brandon Holley, a mechanical engineering student at Northeastern, was involved with FIRST in high school and was eager to join the Nutrons when he started as a freshman.  “My favorite part about being involved with Nutrons is that I get to give back what was given to me in high school – a learning experience that was both fun and challenging,” said Holley.  And while the project can require some long hours, the team works together to make it as fun as possible. 

When the Nutrons were founded, they were one of the only Boston-area FIRST teams that participated in the robotics competitions.  Today, there are 51 Boston-area teams that will compete in the BostonFIRST Robotics competition, which will be held on March 28-29, 2008 on the Boston University campus. More than 1,000 students are expected to attend, and at last years’ regional competition, the Nutrons took first place.

In addition to competing with the local teams, the Nutrons and Northeastern University have been helping the teams that might not have all of the necessary resources to complete the robot project, promoting an environment of support and assistance to enhance the experience of others in the competition.  The “Ask an Engineer” program was created by the Nutrons last year to respond to questions and concerns from local teams who can email their questions and get a response within 24 hours from a Northeastern engineering student.  “Part of this competition is working together, and because not all teams have the resources that Northeastern has, we are more than willing to help other teams so that they have a chance to compete,” said Goldthwaite.

Jessica Wu, who will graduate from Boston Latin in 2010, is very interested in technology and after seeing the Nutrons compete last year, she decided to join.  “The best part about being on the team is that I get hands-on experience with machining and programming, and I know that the skills I develop here will help my career,” said Wu, who hopes to embark on a career in architectural engineering.

For more information about the Nutrons and their upcoming competition, please contact Jenny Eriksen at (617) 373-2802 or via email at j.eriksen@neu.edu.

About Northeastern

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston.  Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world.  The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions.  For more information, please visit www.northeastern.edu.

For more information, please contact Jenny Catherine Eriksen at 617-373-2802 or at j.eriksen@neu.edu.

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