St John's College Woodlawn students Georgia Perkins and Zali Hill participating in the Return to Mars challenge at the 2018 Northern River Science and Engineering Challenge at Southern Cross University.
St John's College Woodlawn students Georgia Perkins and Zali Hill participating in the Return to Mars challenge at the 2018 Northern River Science and Engineering Challenge at Southern Cross University. Francis Witsenhuysen

1500 students from 48 schools compete in science challenge

ROBOTICS whizzes, young Einsteins and bright sparks are putting their brains to the test at the 2019 Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge at Southern Cross University.

The annual STEM showdown will, for the first time, have a humanoid robot named Ami to greet the students each morning of the six-day competition, which started on Wednesday and continues until June 26.

Presented with a series of tasks based on real-life challenges, more than 1500 students from 48 primary and high schools will experience aspects of science and engineering they would not usually see in the classroom.

"Students get to use their skills in problem-solving and teamwork and get a feel for considering STEM-based career choices," said Head of the School of Environment, Science and Engineering, associate professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett.

"Interest in the challenge hasn't diminished over time, in fact the event is fully booked each year. Schools from as far as Tenterfield in the west, Tweed Heads in the north and Grafton in the south will bus in to Lismore to compete for the regional challenge prizes," Dr Reichelt-Brushett said.

"This year we are excited to be offering Mindstorms LEGO robot building kits as prizes. These kits provide opportunities for innovative student thinking about building structures together with real-work robotics technology."

Avid engineering and technology fan, Summerland Christian College Student Nathaniel Amber, tried his hand at the Helter Skelter, where students construct a tall earthquake-proof tower using only basic materials, sound engineering principles, and ingenuity.

At the end of the session the towers are put to the test on an earthquake simulator.

"This challenge is a lot of fun and we learn a lot of things too, like how to make sure your building doesn't fall down," Nathaniel said.

Southern Cross University in conjunction with Rotary Club of Alstonville is proud to host the 13th year of the Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge.

The eight challenge activities are:

  • BRIDGE - Build a small bridge from balsa, pins, tape, paddle pop sticks etc. Points are awarded for strength and load-carrying capacity (tested with dynamic loads).
  • FLAT-PACK - Students need to design and build a model table and chair. They must both be able to support the weight of Ginger and Spot, the family pets. It is important, however, that the furniture is cost effective to generate a profit when it is put into production.
  • CONFOUNDING COMMUNICATIONS - Each group of students will be provided with 2 terminals, which they will use to communicate with each other using various coloured light transmitted through an optical fibre. Students will be assessed on their speed and accuracy.
  • FUTURE POWER - Students plug 'power stations' into a large board and then control the supply of power to a variety of infrastructure on the other side of the board. The infrastructure is represented by lines of switches which are turned on or off by the students.
  • GRASPING AT STRAWS - Students are required to design, build and use a 'bionic hand' built from PVC pipe, string, straws, and timber coffee stirrers. Each group will then assess the effectiveness of their construction in several tests.
  • HELTER SKELTER SHELTER - Students construct a tall earthquake-proof tower using only basic materials, sound engineering principles, and ingenuity. At the end of the session the towers are put to the test on an earthquake simulator.
  • RETURN TO MARS - This activity requires students to construct a vehicle to quickly transverse an undulating surface. Students will use rubber bands for the suspension system.
  • STRINGWAYS - The aim of this half-day activity is to develop rail networks that convey trains in the most efficient way possible. The higher the efficiency of linkage (ie minimum travel distance) the more points your team earns.