Crescenta Valley High School and their contraption placed second in the 2014 JPL Invention Challenge.

Diamond Bar High School displayed their trophy after winning first place in the 2014 JPL Invention Challenge.

A team from Chaparral Middle School in Diamond Bar, California, placed 3rd at the Invention Challenge. Credit: Courtesy Cleary Wong

Horns blew, alarms sounded and a balloon popped as students and NASA professionals competed in this year's Invention Challenge on Friday, Dec. 5 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Twenty teams of students from middle and high schools across Southern California, as well as seven JPL teams, competed in the challenge, which was called "Keep It Moving" this time.

"We had a great turnout, and every student here is an engineer," said Paul MacNeal of JPL, who started the Invention Challenge in 1998 to expose students to the fun of engineering and teach them valuable skills such as brainstorming, teamwork and competitive design.

The objective was to create a device that could move a billiard ball at least 16.4 (5 meters) from the starting point using at least three modes of transportation. Then, the ball had to trigger a portion of the device that made an audible sound exactly 20 seconds after starting. Teams were judged on how close to 20 seconds they could accomplish this, while also complying with all rules.

Competitors came up with all sorts of ways to transport the ball, including chutes, ramps, conveyor belts and small vehicles. Applause resounded as the various devices triggered their ending sounds.

The winning student team, from Diamond Bar High School, came within just 0.002 seconds of 20 seconds. Second place went to Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta-Montrose with a 0.106-second time difference, and in third place was Chaparral Middle School from Diamond Bar with a 0.218-second time difference. There were also honors for most artistic, creative and unusual entries.

Among the JPL competitors, the winner was mechanical engineer Johannes Gross, who collaborated with his stepdaughter Lilli Langer, 8, and her friend Owen Mueller, 8. They designed a small rover to carry their ball, and called themselves "The Alien Inventors." Their entry was just 0.006 seconds off from 20 seconds.

In second place for the JPL category was Alan DeVault, a retired JPL engineer, clocking in 0.1975 seconds off from 20 seconds. The third place winner was former JPL contractor Cleary Wong with a 0.450 time difference.

For more information about the Invention Challenge, visit:

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Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.