Pulaski County has some rising stars in the robotics world.
“The Mad Science Lab” robotics team, made up of students from across Pulaski County and who attend a number of local schools, is quite possibly the youngest group to take on the task of building robots from scratch, complete with programmable functions.
“The state is falling behind in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math),” said Rachel Riquelme, the group’s coach and the children’s minister at High Street Baptist Church. “We want to catch them while they’re young and inspire them and spur them on.”
Robotics has become a popular competitive hobby, with several teams already in place at local high schools. But younger and younger teams are taking part in competitions as well, including “The Mad Science Lab.”
The group is made up of second-grade through sixth-grade students, with many of them still in third- or fourth-grade. That made them an obvious choice for the “Rising Star” award, handed down to them in November at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Kentucky LEGO League Regional Qualifying Tournament in Hazard.
“They were one of the youngest groups in the whole competition,” said Riquelme.
We had a very, very young team who competed for the first time.”
But don’t let their fresh-faced appearances fool you. The kids, many of whom have been on the team since it formed last year, know their way around a LEGO Mindstorm kit, and on a Wednesday afternoon, you can find them at High Street Baptist Church (the common thread between them, as they all attend the church with their families) hard at work building and programming their own robots.
“I think it’s a lot of fun,” said Savannah Burton, 10. “We have to brainstorm ideas for the robot to do.”
The team starts from the ground up with each robot. They use the hardware available in the LEGO kits to decide what they want their robots to look like and do, and they use the software available to program the robots and make them functional. Everything has to be well thought-out by the kids — even something as small as how many rotations the robot’s wheels will make as it moves.
Riquelme said the team prepares diligently for competition, but until it’s time for another one, she is content to let the kids loose and build their own robots themselves, using trial and error to find their way.
“We’re trying to let them do different things,” said Riquelme.
“It lets us express our feelings,” added Burton.
And for many of them, “The Mad Science Lab” is the place to be, until they grow older and can join the local high school robotics teams. Riquelme’s husband, Roger, is a coach for the Southwestern High School Robotics Team.
“I really wanted to learn about robots, and I thought it sounded really cool, and it turned out to be really cool,” said Noah Amundson, 9.
The robotics aside, the strength of “The Mad Science Lab” lies in the teamwork among its young members.
“The teamwork is my favorite part,” said Amundson. “I can’t do this on my own. Got to have other ideas to build the robot.”
Riquelme said the team will compete in future events, and their “Rising Star” award is evidence that the young members are just beginning their journeys in robotics.
“It (the award) just showed that the judges had hope for the future,” said Riquelme.