Robotics Expo Feb. 18 at SAC Museum

Excitement. Loud music. Cheering crowds. This is what spectators will encounter as nearly 800 elementary, middle and high school students -- and their robots -- embark on the Strategic Air and Space Museum near Ashland Feb. 18 for the Nebraska Robotics Expo.

Opening ceremonies begin at 8:30 a.m. with Gov. Dave Heineman. Events start at 9 a.m. Closing ceremonies are at 3:30 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.

The Nebraska Robotics Expo, a collaboration between UNL, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and others, features the Nebraska FIRST LEGO League Championship Tournament, the Junior FIRST LEGO League Fair and the CEENBoT Showcase.

New this year will be a Creative Visual Arts Expo. This will include robotic themed art created by students showing student creativity and understanding of robotics.

The FIRST LEGO League tournament is a partnership between 4-H Youth Development and Time Warner Cable's Connect a Million Minds initiative to inspire the next generation of problem solvers through hands-on learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, said Kathy Morgan, FIRST LEGO League coordinator in 4-H Youth Development at UNL.

FLL team members, ages 9-14, have been gearing up for the challenge since September, Morgan said.

"Our partnership with FIRST LEGO League has helped us make young people aware of the excitement and possibilities of STEM," said Scott Miller, Time Warner Cable's area Vice President of Operations. "STEM education is crucial for our area students and for our country as a whole, and we are proud to do our part to help nurture the next generation of scientific leaders."

Teams qualified for the event through events in Omaha, Kearney and Lincoln.

The theme for this year's events is Food Factor and focuses on food safety. Teams have designed and programmed a robot made completely out of Legos. At the event, teams receive missions and then talk about how they will go forth and accomplish those missions, Morgan said.

Teams get 2.5 minutes to earn points. The top winning team receives an invitation to the FIRST World Festival in St. Louis.

Junior FIRST LEGO League is a program designed for 6-to-9 year olds that challenge teams of two to six to research a topic, create a poster presenting that research, build a Lego model with at least one moving part that addresses the topic researched and then present what they have learned to a reviewer.

The Jr. FLL theme is similar and is called Snack Attack. Teams will receive trophies based on what they did well.

CEENBoT is one of the only robotics platforms recognized by the National Science Foundation. It was developed by students in the UNL Department of Computer Electronics Engineering, housed at the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha.

Neal Grandgenett, a UNO professor of education and one of several university facilitators of the event, said the Nebraska Robotics Expo is a great opportunity for students to learn about STEM and put that learning into action.

"This event allows students to be recognized for their efforts in STEM in an atmosphere that is both fun and exciting," Grandgenett said.

The CEENBoT event has students from elementary through high school participate in different events and levels with different types of robots.

Cost to attend the Nebraska Robotics Expo, which includes admission to the museum, is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and military and $6 for children 6-12.

For more information about the Nebraska Robotics Expo, visit or the Strategic Air and Space Museum at Those interested in starting their own FIRST LEGO League team can visit for more information.

-- Sandi Karstens

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