STEM students sow their future in technology

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Kneeling from left Justin Bascos, with teacher and team co-adviser Ryan McDaniel examining the robot as Tony Wants tries to manipulate mechanisms in the background. (Photograph by Alisha Semchuck)

Even robots have their off days, as members of the Lancaster High School Team 399 Eagle Robotics learned at the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) exhibit, which attracted spectators attending the 2019 Antelope Valley Fair & Alfalfa Festival.

“I’m a veteran on the team,” said Joseph Sanchez, a high school senior. “A veteran has one or more years on the team. I’m also a prototype and I helped build it,” he said of the robot named Eclipse. He described a team “prototype” as someone who offers ideas for the robot.

Students named their team Eagle for the Lancaster High School mascot. They selected the robot’s name from 20 to 30 suggestions submitted by 6th, 7th and 8th grade students participating in a Name Our Robot contest, according to Tony Wanis, also a senior, now in his fourth year on the team. Because rockets relate to space, Tony said, “Eclipse fits the theme of space.”

“Each robot has its own game,” he continued. That game must fit specific challenges required by worldwide organizers of robotics teams, he explained. “This year we had challenges of (robots) filling up rockets and cargo ships with balls and hatch panels.”

Although Lancaster High’s robotics team boasts a total of 70 members, the primary caretakers of Eclipse worked on trying to jumpstart that robot the last Friday night of the fair.

When performing as designed, Eclipse spits out balls and releases hatch panels. Tony was at the drive station, basically a computer keyboard alongside joy sticks, trying to set Eclipse into motion.

“We’re going to do a wired connection so we can test the robot,” said Justin Bascos, a high school junior in his third year on the team.

“The radio that connects the computer to the robot is unable to make the connection. That’s what they’re troubleshooting,” said Ryan McDaniel, the team co-adviser and computer science teacher at the high school.

“For 2019, we actually won the Chairman’s Award,” said Tony.

“The team took Eclipse to Del Mar for a competition called Beach Blitz. They were under a canopy. It rained and all the robots were still working,” McDaniel said. “They built this from scratch. What’s beautiful, they’re able to troubleshoot. We’re teaching kids to think critically. It’s awesome to watch them do it.”

“This is a robot named Sirius,” said Joshua Artiga, a freshman at the Palmdale Aerospace Academy high school, whose Gryffingear Robotics Team took first place at the 2019 Idaho Regional Competition.

Why Sirius? “The whole team voted on the name,” said Jonathan Torres, a high school senior.

“We usually pick names of characters in the Harry Potter series,” said Kehly Kirk, the school’s adviser to the robotics team.

What challenge has Sirius seriously accomplished?

“Wheels on Sirius push balls into a rocket ship,” Joshua said.

The Solar Falcon Race Team from Palmdale High School displayed one of their creations at the STEM exhibit. Their team consists of 30 students, said Pedro Del Valle, a network technician at Palmdale High and an adviser to the race team.

Del Valle said 20 students competed in this year’s race. Their solar car came in fourth place, he noted. The E-Car, Electric Car, came in fifth place.

“It was the first year the kids raced that car,” Del Valle said. “They did magnificently (when) considering the circumstances.”

Some home-schooled high school students also showed their handiwork at the STEM exhibit. They were affiliated with Watson Ranch, a home-school coop located just off 70th Street West and Avenue I.

“We’re building a plane together,” said Keaton DeLeo, a senior at Classical Conversations, a home-school based at Highlands Christian Fellowship.

Keaton and his teammates showed off the wooden framework in progress, a two-seater aircraft.

“He’s going to test the plane,” said Keaton of Glenn Watson, chairman of the board for the coop, a 501 (c) 3.

“Once it’s all certified,” Keaton said, “he’s going to teach us how to fly it and help us get our pilot’s license.”

Antelope Valley College students conducted an experiment as part of the STEM exhibit.

“We have baking soda in the balloon and vinegar in the bottle,” said Adrian Djelardin, a sophomore at AVC. He snugly fit the balloon over the neck of the bottle and then watched as physics took its natural course.

“Baking soda mixes with vinegar and inflates the balloon attached to the mouth of the bottle,” Adrian said. “It’s an endothermic reaction. It absorbs heat energy from the environment leaving the environment cooler.”

Tony Wanis, senior at Lancaster High School in Team 399 Eagle Robotics at the drive station trying to activate the robot called Eclipse. (Photograph by Alisha Semchuck)

Regarding robotics at the college, Adrian said, “We don’t have a team currently competing, but we have a robotics group that has competed in the past. We have one extremely dedicated member that’s trying to start it back up and make the group bigger. We also have plans to work with SOAR High School, but that’s all tentative, it’s not set in stone.”

The 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base also had a presence at the STEM exhibit, where staff displayed pictures of warfighter aircraft and explained the success NASA had with Vehicle Integration Propulsion Research testing and research on Low Boom Supersonic flights.

Various aircraft associated with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center included the DC-8, SOFIA 747-SP and the Phantom Eye.

The mission of the 412th Test Wing is to test and evaluate weapon systems to ensure war-winning combat capabilities.

Global power of Edwards has been demonstrated through the F-35, the F-22 and the B-2.

Lisa Moulton and Andrea Henderson, both representing the Los Angeles County Air Show, informed fairgoers about upcoming events. On March 21 and 22, 2020, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels will perform at General William J. Fox Field and on Oct. 10 and 11, 2020 the USAF Thunderbirds will be in formation at Edwards Air Force Base.

Chris Bates is in charge of the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight program under the auspices of the 412th Medical Group at Edwards, which provides health services by evaluating and determining workplace risk assessment.

He spoke about devices used to detect the presence of radiation and the levels of radiation exposure. An Electronic Personal Dosimeter detects real time radiation levels that usually come from a radioactive source.

“We use these to try and find it,” Bates said. It tells the amount of exposure that an individual has been subjected to. Another device that Bates displayed detects the amount of radiation output from a source. Four other instruments specifically detect either Gamma radiation, Beta radiation, Alpha radiation or the output from X-rays.

“We work with NASA, the Air Force Research Lab and Plant 42,” Bates said. “We’re the radiation safety office for all three.”