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PLTW Students Among Top Teams in NASA Challenge

(March 20, 2012) Hampton, Va. -Twenty college students from across the nation have been named to lead teams of middle and high school students into the virtual InWorld phase of the NASA RealWorld-InWorld (RWIW) Engineering Design Challenge. Three of the remaining 20 teams are Project Lead The Way students from California and South Carolina.

The team leads, who volunteer their time outside of their regular studies, were each recommended by their college professors based on their leadership skills and academic ability. The team leads each reviewed the design solutions submitted during the initial RealWorld phase of the design challenge and selected a middle or high school team to mentor throughout the InWorld phase of the challenge.

“One of the biggest benefits to college students, that I see, is the chance to practice their own ability to conduct an engineering design project. These are all things all engineers have to do - sit down with a group (possibly virtually or over the phone), do your research, think up a solution to a problem, design it, refine it, and finally present it,” said Ethan Brewer, an Ohio State University Aerospace Engineering student, and returning RWIW team leader.

“I wanted to lead an InWorld Team so I could encourage high school students to pursue careers in STEM related fields. This competition provides a unique opportunity for students to solve real-world engineering problems, work in a team, and present their ideas through a creative and unique way. I really wanted to be a part of the growth and exploration that occurs in each of the high school students throughout the competition,” explained Jill Freise, a mechanical engineering student at Texas A&M University, and a high school participant last year.

“My team leader last year, Nam, made a huge impression on me, and I wanted to impact others in that same way. I learned a lot about leadership, problem-solving, and engineering from his mentorship throughout the competition,” continued Freise.

The middle and high school RealWorld teams were selected from teams across the nation. Three of the selected teams are affiliated with Project Lead The Way, and seven have ties to NASA’s online INSPIRE program. Two of the Project Lead The Way teams come from Warren High School in Downey, Calif., while the other team comes from Anderson Career and Tech Center in South Carolina.

The teams and their college leads now move to the virtual InWorld phase of the RWIW Engineering Design Challenge. This second phase of the challenge is completed within the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) Universe, which is an ActiveWorlds 3D, multiuser, PC based, virtual environment that allows students to collaborate through text and voice chat, and through shared 3D models, video, and images.

Each InWorld team works within their own dedicated environment, or “Team World,” to refine and improve designs from the RealWorld phase of the challenge. Teams will also interact with an evaluation team, give tours of their “world”, and complete a mystery challenge within this virtual space.

The two challenges for RWIW this year focus on NASA’s Robonaut 2 (R2) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Ten of the 20 InWorld teams are designing a zero gravity foot for R2. NASA engineers may consider the designs from the challenge in the actual design of R2’s foot.

The ten JWST teams are redesigning the telescope’s sunshield. The sunshield is essential in keeping the telescope cold, so it can detect infrared light from faint sources, such as distant galaxies and extrasolar planets.

The teams will work on their designs until April 2, 2012. The top three teams of both challenge categories will be selected by April 6. Two “open-house” sessions on April 16 will allow individuals to tour the top six team’s virtual spaces from 3-4 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. EDT. Each team will also interact with an evaluation team during a scheduled online synchronous forum on April 17.

A final JWST and R2 team will be announced. Finalists will receive a certificate of completion, and a letter of commendation. All members of the winning teams will receive $1,000.

Good luck to our three teams of PLTW students!

courtesy: National Institute of Aerospace