‘Nerds of Steel’ win show­down

Tal­ented DF Mal­herbe pupils top in sci­ence com­pe­ti­tion

The Herald (South Africa) - - NEWS - Siyam­tanda Capa ca­pas@ti­soblack­star.co.za

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

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