Los Angeles High School's Team Diamond participates in the 2016 Invention Challenge at JPL

One of the students from a Tanzanian team

Oakwood High School's Oakwood #1 took top prize at this year's Invention Challenge at JPL

Catapults, conveyor belts and vacuums were among the many innovative devices built by students for the 2016 Invention Challenge, an annual engineering competition hosted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The event was designed to inspire students to pursue careers in engineering. It allows students to create their own devices and compete against each other and professional teams of engineers from JPL.

Middle schools and high schools were represented from across the Los Angeles area and as far away as Riverside and Diamond Bar. One team even required passports: Feza Boys School of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The winners were two teams from Oakwood High School in North Hollywood, named Oakwood #1 and #2, and Los Angeles High School, whose team name was "Diamond." Awards were also presented for the most creative, most unusual, and most artistic devices.

This year's theme, "Don't Waste a Drop," required students to move 250 grams of water and a 3-D printed goldfish from a plastic cup to a larger water vessel. The challenges were many: getting systems of weights and pulleys to move smoothly; making sure cups didn't tilt too far or spill too much water; and even preventing the goldfish from breaking, which resulted in disqualification.

Now in its nineteenth year, the Invention Challenge has inspired former participants to recreate the competition in their home countries, said Paul MacNeal, a JPL mechanical systems engineer and the contest's organizer.

"Our goal with this event is to inspire the next generation of engineers," MacNeal said. "It's great to see just how far that inspiration has extended. It's a fun way to teach teamwork and innovative thinking."

Dogan Aykurt, a Turkish teacher who brought the Tanzanian team to JPL, had participated in the Istanbul Invention Challenge in Turkey when he was in graduate school. The Istanbul event utilizes the rules of the JPL Invention Challenge and is held one day later. He hoped that bringing his students all the way to the U.S. would help them to dream big and develop science and technology in their own country.

"I thought if we bring these students to JPL, they'll get new ideas," Aykurt said. "That's a big issue for them, because Tanzania is still a developing country." He hopes to bring students from a neighboring girl's school next year.

The designs of the devices were varied. For example, Arcadia High School's team, Absolute Value C, developed a conveyor belt design. The engineering challenges evolved as the project developed -- and included staying dry.

"Initially, the water would go so fast it would shoot over the end," said Arcadia High senior Lauren Shen. "We added a guard so it wouldn't shoot over. But one time, we forget to put the vessel on the end, and I was sitting on the ground and it soaked me." Fortunately, that didn't happen during today's event.

Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.