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Students Bounce to the Top at JPL Competition

December 13, 2010

Magnolia Science Academy, Carson, Calif., led by mentor Yunis Karaca and student captain Robert Butler, picked up top honors at the annual Invention Challenge, held Dec. 10, at JPL. The winning device was appropriately named “Catapult. “

The event drew more than 260 students and teachers representing 16 schools from throughout Southern California. This year’s challenge was to build a unique device capable of lifting an officially supplied ping-pong ball and cause the ball to touch and hold against a ceiling located 2 meters (about 6.6 feet) above ground. The winner completed this task in the fastest time.

A total of 19 student teams competed side-by-side with 15 teams that included JPL engineers. There was a tie for the winning JPL team between P.C. Chen and David Van Buren, while second place went to Richard Goldstein and third place to Bob Krylo.

The requirements this year: The devices had to be initiated by a single operation (cut a string, flick a switch, etc.), use safe energy sources, and could be no larger, prior to the start of the task than 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) high by 1.2 meters (about 3.9 feet) wide by 1.2 meters (about 3.9 feet) long. The devices had to be made from non-toxic and safe materials.

The rules change each year, but the results remain consistent: Students challenge themselves, solve problems and appreciate that math, science and engineering can be fun.

When asked for the key to their success, Yunis Karaca, the team’s mentor replied, “We first brainstormed and then I let the kids use their imagination.”

Image Caption: Students from Magnolia Science Academy, Carson, Calif., hold their first place trophy with mentor Yunis Karaca (bottom right, wearing green). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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