By Jim Gauger
Special to the CS&T

Students at three high schools in the Archdiocese recently earned recognition for science projects this spring – Archbishop Wood in Warminster, Bishop Shanahan in Downingtown and Father Judge in Philadelphia.

The Wood students built a winning robotics project, the Shanahan students found success in a Chester County science research competition, and the Judge students were rewarded for a wind turbine that powers light for a memorial on school grounds.


Robovikings storm the shores of nationals

The end of April found a group of Archbishop Wood students in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics National Championships at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo. FIRST is a non-profit organization founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the gyroscope-based scooter, the Segway Human Transporter.

Sixteen students from the Roboviking team are participating in the competition April 27-30. The Robovikings advanced to the championships with an improbable first-place finish at the Northeast Region FIRST Robotics Competition at Temple University’s Liacouras Center April 7-9.

“It was a combination of luck and being able to perform in the way the alliance (a group of three teams) needed us to perform,” said team moderator Thomas Galie. Mr. G., as the students call him, has been teaching physics for just over four years at Wood. During that time, the Robovikings have entered regional competitions – this year they will face 55 teams from seven Northeastern states.

Competing teams were instructed to build a robot (maximum height 60 inches, maximum weight 120 pounds) and a mini-robot (mini-bot). The mini-bot proved to be a difference-maker for the Wood team. Each team is given an identical supply of parts and software, and they have six weeks to build the remote-controlled robot. The robotics project is done after school with the help of some very dedicated parents.

The robot has to maneuver a field flanked by poles and earn points by hanging as many triangle, circle and square logo pieces on each pole as possible. Bonus points are given to the mini-bot that climbs a vertical pole. This all takes place in a two-minute span.

At the regional competition at Temple, the Robovikings found themselves on the outside, looking in. They were the second backup team in the second round of the 24-team, double-elimination playoffs. When one of the alliance teams’ robots failed, the Wood team was brought in to replace it.

The Robovikings made the most of the opportunity. “We used defense (blocking the other team’s robot) and finished tied for the finals,” Galie said.

“In the tiebreaker we used pure defense and shut down the opposing alliance teams,” he added. “We had a very fast, agile robot and a good drive team.” The deciding bonus points and the trip to St. Louis were won by the mini-bot, which was the first to climb to the top of a 10-foot pole in the final 10 seconds of the two-minute session.

Of the 20 Wood team students, five are from each grade – freshman through senior. “We had 14 students from last year and eight have been involved for all four years, and that made a difference,” Galie said. “The maturity and skill of the four-year team members, as well as the adults who were very active, really helped.”

The same robot and mini-bot will be used in St. Louis, where the Robovikings are ranked 56th out of 87 teams (87 being no. 1) in their spanision. Three hundred-fifty teams are entered in the competition.

Assignments for the team include four floor positions – pilot, co-pilot, captain and human player (delivers logo pieces to the floor) – plus students assigned to scouting (statistics), documenting and safety.

“I think we’re going to be very competitive, having proved ourselves in this region, which is strong year after year,” Galie said. “This year found me almost coming to tears about what the students (have) accomplished. It is a student-driven activity. We’re here to guide them and give them advice.”

Juniors and seniors designed and built this year’s robot with help from the adults. Freshman and sophomore students focused on strategy.

Juniors and seniors designed and built this year’s robot
with help from the adults. Freshman and sophomore students focused on strategy.
Robotics team members included seniors Brendan Byrne, Michael Czerwonka, Stephen
Hill, Nicholas Pescatore and Catherine Rossbach; juniors Joseph DeVenuto, Sean
Fitzpatrick, Michael Heggan, Kevin Letizio and Jeffrey Wojciechowski; sophomores
Christopher Atras, Jeremy Ferrante, Connor McTaggart, Keegan Nagel, Elise Rossbach
and Madeline Osborne; and freshmen Anthony Cieri, Nichole Cullen, Joseph Rosney
and John Westoff.

Ice turns hot at Bishop Shanahan

Bishop Shanahan students participated in the Chester County Science Research Competition held at the Center for Arts & Technology (Pickering Campus) in Phoenixville on March 3.

Freshman Andrew Murphy was the big winner, gathering awards in the Chester County competition and at a subsequent honorable mention at the Delaware Valley Science Fair held April 6 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks.

“Andrew conducted research on the Mpemba Effect (the phenomenon in which hot water is able to freeze faster than cold water),” said Stephen Kerwin, Shanahan science fair moderator. “His teacher, Barbara Redditt, told me multiple times that she believed Andrew had done a fantastic job with his project, and she believed he would do very well at the science fairs, and he certainly did.”

The students were led by Kerwin, an honors physics teacher in his fourth year at Shanahan, who along with Redditt and Krystyna Szymanski were instrumental in the school’s involvement in the science fairs.

“The three of us worked hard to make participation in the science fairs this year a strong reality,” Kerwin said in an e-mail. “We are very proud of all of our participating students, and we are especially thrilled they are so curious about the world around them.

“We are excited to see such a strong drive for science in each of them, and we are happy to be helping them along in their quest for knowledge as their science teachers.”

Kerwin said students worked alone or in groups on their projects for several months, starting with research on a science topic, then they analyzed their data, created a research plan, presented it to the fair’s board and executed that plan.

First-place team project in physics winners were seniors
Hannah Cripps, Lindsay Bayne and Michael Anderson. Other winners from the
Chester County Science Research Competition, all freshman, included: first place
and second place inspanidual physics project awards to Andrew Murphy and Jeffrey
Mostyn, respectively. The second-place team project in environmental science
was awarded to Paul Blanchard, Ryan Paulukinas and Samuel Schmidt. Third-place team
project in physics was awarded to Moira Dougherty, Colleen Henderson and Rose
Ousey. Andrew Murphy also placed as Third Place Best in Show for an inspanidual

Bright lights, no cost at Father Judge

Father Judge students received a $5,000 prize for their school as a winner of the 2011 Environmental Community Service Award presented by Wawa, NBC 10 and the environmental law firm Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox.

Under the direction of environmental and physical science teacher Nora Kasper, the students built a wind turbine that will light a memorial “for Judge students, faculty, oblates, staff and alumni who have passed away,” she said.

The wind turbine, which uses the wind to spin blades that charge a battery producing power for the light, was mainly built by Jon Beuerle and David Sharp when they were freshmen, but other Judge students helped with the project too.

Buerle and Sharp are now juniors. “It was our science teacher, Ms. Kasper’s idea,” Buerle said. “We wanted to try it; I had never done anything like it. I guess there were 15 students that worked on the project. We (Sharp and Buerle) stuck with it and worked on it twice a week from February through June.”

That was in 2009.

“I was contacted by a couple of college students who wanted to work with me on an alternative energy project,” Kasper said. That inquiry led to the college students working with the Judge students to build the wind turbine.

“The alumni association was going to build another memorial next to the Vietnam memorial, so I asked (them) if we could power the spotlight on the new memorial,” she said.

Money for supplies to build the memorial – $350 – was donated by Robert Kozlowski, an English teacher at Judge, in memory of his son, Robert, a former student of Kasper’s, who died in a car accident. A plaque dedicated to Robert Kozlowski will be placed near the memorial. “This is very moving for me,” Kasper said.

The community memorial was not ready last year, so the wind turbine project was put on hold until this spring.

Kasper saw an ad for the environmental contest on the NBC10 Web site, and the students decided to enter their wind turbine. The $5,000 prize will go toward future sustainability and alternative energy projects, Kasper said.

The wind turbine will be placed on the roof at Judge before the end of the school year so that it can light the new memorial. The wind turbine is nicknamed “Wattage” for “wind activated turbine to achieve green energy.”

“I’m so exited for the students and for the school,” Kasper said. “I’m learning right alongside my students. It’s what education is all about.”

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.