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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Time Warner Cable Set to Host FIRST LEGO® League Robotics Tournament for Local Middle Schools

December 8, 2011

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Time Warner Cable Set to Host FIRST LEGO® League Robotics Tournament for Local Middle Schools

Area Middle School Students Set to Tackle Food Safety Issues with Innovative Solutions This Weekend

Photography by Adriana M. Groisman, courtesy of FIRST

When it comes to addressing food safety, what ideas can young students offer? Just ask the 13 middle school teams from around the Capital Region that are set to compete in the FIRST LEGO® League (FLL) Regional Qualifying Tournament at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Dec. 10. More than 120 students have been working together to use their imagination and creativity in combination with science and technology to develop ways to make food safer to eat.  This year’s event is made possible through a partnership between Rensselaer and Time Warner Cable, which has co-sponsored the event for the last two years.

The global competition is being brought to the region for the sixth time. The program kicks off with the opening ceremonies at 9:25 a.m. in the Darrin Communications Center (DCC), room 308. Immediately following, the robotics competition begins and culminates with a closing ceremony and awards presentation beginning at 3 p.m.

“Food safety is an excellent theme for students to address and connect with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines,” said Paul Schoch, associate professor in the Rensselaer Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering department, and director of the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education (CIPCE), which works with area teachers and students to promote the use of robotics in the classroom.

“We eat food every day, and students love learning about something that is a part of their life,” Schoch added. “Students from the Capital Region and around the world have been tasked with researching a real-world scientific issue, which also serves to show students how scientists, engineers, government agencies, and food producers work together to find solutions.” 

Overall, in the Food Factor ™ Challenge, nearly 200,000 middle and high school students from 55 countries will explore the topic of food safety and examine the possible points of contamination our food encounters – from exposure to insects and creatures, to unsterile  processing and transportation, to unsanitary  preparation and storage – then find ways to prevent or combat these contaminants.

As part of the challenge, FIRST LEGO® League teams of up to 10 children, with one adult coach, participate in the Challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (Robot Game) and developing a solution to a problem they have identified (Project). In Food Factor ™, robots are tasked with the safe transportation and preparation of food, exploring pest control, food temperatures, and pollution as they navigate from the various starting points of our food to the place where it is consumed. 

 “Time Warner Cable is thrilled to partner with RPI to present the FIRST LEGO® League (FLL) Qualifying Tournament and sponsor three teams,” said Jennifer Reed Holick, communications manager for Time Warner Cable. “Through our Connect a Million Minds Initiative, Time Warner Cable is committed to providing exciting, hands-on opportunities for kids to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math.  Tournaments like this allow students to see how science and technology are fun, while gaining the skills they need to become the problem solvers of tomorrow.”

The teams are from around the Capital Region and New York state. The tournament provides local middle school students with an opportunity to understand the common themes that connect science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“After eight intense weeks, the competition season culminates in high-energy, sports-like tournaments around the globe,” Schoch said. “This weekend, teams of children guided by their volunteer coaches will demonstrate their problem-solving skills, creative thinking, teamwork, competitive play, sportsmanship, and sense of community. We’re proud to host this competition because events like this not only help students to bring technology to life through their hands-on participation, but it can also inspire them to consider future careers as scientists and engineers.” 

Past FIRST LEGO® League challenges have focused on topics that include: oceanography, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, climate, quality of life for the handicapped population, and transportation.  In 2012, the challenge will focus on Senior Solutions.SM.  Participating teams will explore the topic of aging and how it may affect a person’s ability to maintain his or her lifestyle – solving issues like getting around, keeping in touch, or staying fit. Teams will also research obstacles and then suggest ways to improve the quality of life for the seniors affected.

This year’s tournament, supported by more than 50 volunteers, including Rensselaer students, faculty, and staff, along with 24 area students from high school robotics teams, puts eight weeks of research, design, and programming to the test, giving local students the chance to participate at the FLL World Festival. In April, more than 30,000 participants, volunteers, and spectators gather to celebrate top teams at the annual FIRST Championship, held at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo.

FLL is a partnership between the LEGO® Group and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to motivate young people to pursue careers in science, technology, and engineering. FLL is the middle school component of the FIRST Robotics Competition, an international contest that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem in a competitive way. For more information, visit:

Contact: Jessica Otitigbe
Phone: (518) 276-6050


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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,600 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.