Elementary and middle school students gathered in the Shepherd Union Ballroom on Feb. 2 to participate in the Utah FIRST LEGO League Qualifying Competition.

In this event, children ages six to 18 researched a topic such as food safety, recycling or energy, and used LEGO to construct a real-world robotic solution.

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(Rick Mason / Unsplash)

This year’s theme of the event was “Into Orbit,” inspired by NASA’s preparations for future space missions. The event sold out to a total of 800 people including families, friends, students, volunteers and faculty members.

With 72 teams from across the northern region of Utah in attendance, students competed in a robot-design and individual project challenge in order to win tickets to LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, California. Trophies made out of LEGO and certificates were also awarded for the all of the participants’ hard work.

“This year, we have double the teams that are registered than our previous year,” computer science Assistant Professor Kyle Feuz said. “It’s great and exciting for the growth for the program.”

The event was comprised of four tables where the teams were judged on their performances. During the project challenge, students researched a physical or social problem commonly faced by humans during long-term space exploration. After completing this task, they then began constructing and coding their robots.

Each competition was a timed race to complete the mission without students touching or moving the robot by hand.

“Our goal was to not only have this team do their best, but to also have fun and to learn,” First LEGO League Coach and parent Brent Peterson said.

Peterson’s team, The Space Sloths, focused on how to grow food in space during a long journey. In order to achieve this, they served cutter dried spinach on a small plastic container to show how much food astronauts eat when conserving their energy.

Teams kept the competition lighthearted by coming up with creative names to set them apart from others. Some notable names included the LEGOBOI Masters, The Gentlemen and Huper Builders.

“It is so fun to be around all these kids and their energy,” Director of the Center for Technology Outreach Dana Dellinger said.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) offers a progression of four K-12 after school programs meant to spark student interest in science and technology and encourage them to consider education and careers in STEM fields.

For more information on upcoming FIRST LEGO events or how to donate and volunteer, visit utfll.utah.edu and usfirst.org.

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