‘Nerds of Steel’ win showdown
Talented DF Malherbe pupils top in science competition
THEY are known among classmates as the “Nerds of Steel” and as a group of budding young scientists they are tackling one of the most pressing issues of the day in South Africa – water scarcity.
Months of hard work and practice have paid off for four DF Malherbe High School pupils who will be jetting off to Houston, Texas, to compete in the international First Lego League championships in April.
They are in grades 8, 10 and 11 and came out top at the South African leg of the competition last week in Johannesburg, beating 30 teams from some of the top schools in the country.
The competition includes designing and programming a robot using Lego, and identifying and solving a problem under the hydrodynamics theme.
The “Nerds of Steel” chose to create a robot that would contribute towards solving South Africa’s water crisis.
Brad Spies, 14, and his sister KT, 16, Daniel Manlee, 17, and Connor McLeod, 17, were also judged on how well they worked together as a team.
DF Malherbe science teacher and coach Magnus Viljoen said this meant they had to spend countless hours at each other’s homes, practising and sharpening their Lego skills and seeing how well they worked together.
“They had to build a Lego robot within certain constraints and programme it to perform activities on a field that has numerous Lego objects in predetermined positions that have to be interacted with, to gain points,” Viljoen said.
The pupils had to do all this within 2½ minutes. They then had to programme the robot to make it move.
“It is very difficult because they had to design the robot and make sure it moved in a straight line and was stable before programming it.”
In the second part of the competition, the pupils had to identify a water-related problem.
“They did this beautiful project about how we can extract more water to solve the drought problem,” Viljoen said.
They have to be cagey about providing further details as they are going to use the same project in Houston, but suffice to say it explores various ways of saving and reusing water.
In Texas, the pupils will battle it out against teams from 88 countries for the international championship title.
Grade 11 pupil Daniel said he was ecstatic and still in disbelief.
“I jumped up when I heard the ‘Nerds of Steel’ named champions, it was unbelievable that we won.
“[This] is a dream come true [and] I am honoured to represent South Africa and my school internationally.”
Grade 8 pupil Brad said: “The idea of overall victory was not an expected outcome, although we had all the teams rooting for us so that when we were crowned South African champions, we did not celebrate victory alone.”
To prepare for the international competition, the pupils have been interacting with their peers through social media.
KT said they shared tips regularly through Skype.
“I have no words to describe how I feel except that I feel truly blessed, It took a while to sink in. I did not expect us to win.
“The First Lego League can only grow from here because intelligent pupils will be taking part,” she said.
BRIGHT SPARKS: DF Malherbe pupils and ‘Nerds of Steel’ team members, from left, Connor McLeod and Daniel Manlee, with siblings KT and Brad Spies. Behind them is their science teacher and coach, Magnus Viljoen