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First all-girl team takes part in robotics contest

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Students design, buildand program the robots.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Her manicured fingernails painted fuchsia and silver, Danielle Potter pats a stripe of pink fluff.
"She's the only girl here," Danielle says. "That's her boa."
The "boa" sits next to a computer circuit board that controls this "girl" that is really a shoe box-sized robot.
Designed by a team of five senior girls from Howland High School, the robot competed Wednesday in the Northeast Ohio Robotics Competition at Youngstown State University.
The competition pitted 44 teams from across Northeast Ohio against one another. It is the fifth year students have competed in the contest.
"We're the first all-girl team," Danielle said.
They're also probably the first team to compete with a robot sporting a paper flag emblazoned with a heart, flames, pink shimmer and the team name "Femme Bots."
Science first
Team members are in honors physics class at their school. Teacher Craig Andrews said they chose on their own to take the all-girl route. He also advised a second team of boys.
"A few felt hesitant. It was the typical thing -- they wanted to let the boys take over," Andrews said. "So I helped them realize they can do this too."
Julie Johnson said they chose to go for it "especially because robotics is such a male-dominated field." Other team members are Sevasti Hadzigeorge, Shereen Khanuja and Katherine Savakis.
Though their sparkling robot gained much attention for its femininity, it wasn't designed without good science sense -- the pink paint on the wheels shows the girls how to line them up. And that boa is just for looks.
"She doesn't compete with her boa," a smiling Julie said. "We're just afraid it's going to fall off and get in the motor. We didn't want it to disturb the competition, either."
Other teams
The competition was made up of lots of boys, but also many other girls.
A Salem High School team of four boys and a girl entered for the first time this year, sticking with it even after an essential infra-red component shorted out.
But the group is determined to try again next year.
"It's a lot of hard work," said freshman Michelle Bush. "It's a lot harder than people think."
Students are required to build and design their computers, from circuit boards and motors to chassis and wheels. From there, they must write a computer program that instructs the robot to compete in various ways. At the event, they fine-tuned the programs using laptop computers.
Austintown Fitch senior Dereck Almasi, who competed with a team from the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, pointed out how "every team here could have a different program and a different robot."
He showed his robot's DC motor, chosen for better torque and light sensors that help detect white and black.
In one competition, robots had to clear white blocks from a rectangular space while avoiding black blocks. A team of junior boys from the Trumbull Career and Technical Center earned 30 points for plowing away three.
And the experience might come in handy: Mark DeJean of Mathews wants to go into robotics; Evan Fisher of Girard is focused on aerospace engineering; and Eddie Smusz of Hubbard dreams of being a NASCAR crew chief.