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Out of sight

By Staff
RMS forms robotics team
Kim West
Something out of the ordinary took place at the Ralph C. Bishop Community Center on Feb. 27 as marshmallows went flying across the basketball court and students tinkered with homemade devices made out of PVC pipes, old car parts and bicycle pumps.
A group of Russellville Middle School students were at the recreation center to take part in the first annual Engineering Design Competition sponsored by Lee Brownell, an RMS science teacher. The competition served as an audition for the RMS robotics team, which will begin competing next fall.
Prospective team members were required to submit an application and essay, build a non-motorized device that could safely launch a marshmallow and keep a journal detailing the construction process.
"Their job was basically to create a device that would launch a marshmallow 20 meters," said Brownell, who formed the team to encourage interest in science, technology and math, known as STEM, and also plans to start a high school team. "The students also had to keep an engineering notebook to explain their thought process on how they came up with their projects.
"I hope this will get kids to stay interested in science and pursue STEM careers."
Brownell said the team has received start-up money through donations from G&G Steel and state Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville), and the funds will be used to help purchase tools and supplies. RMS will participate in the Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics Competition at Calhoun Community College in Decatur this fall.
"We'll pick up a pile of materials at Calhoun in September and get instructions on what type of robot to create," Brownell said. "The projects will be on exhibit at Madison Square Mall (in Huntsville), and then we'll compete in the competition at Calhoun in either October or November."
During the competition, each student had two opportunities to test their devices in front of the few dozen friends and family in attendance.
Casey Brandenburg, a sixth grader, used a foot pump to power her device, which was painted bright orange and structured with PVC piping.
"It probably took me a month to finish it," said Brandenburg, who was participating in her first science competition. "The biggest challenge was finding something that would shoot a marshmallow far enough, and I used the pump because I wanted something that would make the marshmallow go high in the air."
Hank Forsythe, a seventh grader, used a mousetrap and a kitchen spatula to provide the launching mechanism for his device, which was painted black and based on an old brake rotor.
"I used a simple design with a basic mouse trap," said Forsythe, who won a best design award for a robot that he created with his partner at a robotics camp at the Marshall Space &Rocket Center in Huntsville last summer. "I added the rotor to stabilize (the device) because every time a marshmallow was launched, it would fall over."
The RMS Robotics team also includes fifth grader Hunter James, sixth graders Chloe Brownell, Madison Thompson, Anna Smith and Jacob Green and seventh graders Austin Darling and Hank Forsythe. Team advisors include eighth graders Hayden James and Jose Figueroa, freshmen Shelby Brownell and Duncan McDowell and seniors Nathan McAlister and John McAlister. The returning high school students will be invited to join the Russellville High School robotics team next fall.