robots compete in basketball tournament
Student-build robots compete in FIRST's regional basketball tournament. Image credit: NASA/JPL

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is putting out the call to Southern California area high schools to involve them in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program. The FIRST program is a robotics competition aimed at inspiring students, providing hands-on activities, fostering teamwork and giving students access to work with engineers to help students build their own robot. Each year, students get "a problem" or task that their robot must perform and a kit with "nuts and bolts" to get them started.

The FIRST regional competition event, sponsored by JPL and hosted by the University of Southern California, will be held March 1517, 2001, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASA will award 100 sponsorships and locally, JPL will award 20 teams with sponsorships to help them compete in the Southern California Regional. Each sponsorship will pay the $5,000 entry fee and travel for one person to attend the January 2001 kickoff meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The deadline for submitting sponsorship applications is November 3, 2000. However, schools can still register for the 2001 competition through December 8, 2000.

Schools interested in participating should call Kimberly Lievense in JPL's Public Services Office at (818) 354-0112. Information on team building, sponsorship requirements and application is available at

"We want to get students excited about this competition, which is a lot of fun," said Rob Steele, one of the JPL program coordinators. "There is no monetary prize, but year after year, schools participate and students do it for the sheer spirit of competition. It's a sporting event about science; a science teacher's dream."

As one of the two original Southern California teams to enter the FIRST robotics competition, Chatsworth High School is entering the competition for its fifth year with a team of nearly 70 students.

"This robotics program is, without a doubt, the most exciting and motivating educational opportunity I have ever seen," said Wendy Wooten, teacher and sponsor of the Chatsworth High School Robotics Team. "Not only are the students applying math and science knowledge in a problem-solving setting, but they are, most importantly, becoming self learners."

Wooten, who has taught science for more than 22 years, admits that she does not have the technical background to teach engineering design, electronics, control systems or computer animation. She thought her lack of knowledge and expertise would be a drawback in starting a FIRST robotics team, but she soon realized that it was a bonus within this program. Her students have researched engineering design, learned computer animation software applications, taken summer electronics courses, and initiated independent projects in related application areas for themselves.

"The enthusiasm and eagerness with which my students approach these endeavors is truly amazing," she said. "When one considers the current academic challenges educators face today, the FIRST robotics program is as close to a 'cure all' as I can imagine."

FIRST is a non-profit organization whose mission is to generate an interest in science and technology. The FIRST robotics competition is a national contest that immerses high school students in the exciting world of robotics.

Managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, JPL is the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system.

News Media Contact

Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382