Think about it. It’s what hundreds of North Texas youth were challenged with back in September 2011 when they received this season’s FIRST LEGO® League (FLL) robotics competition theme – “Food Factor.” After months studying, dissecting and analyzing food safety – from farming and harvest, to supply and distribution, to maintaining food freshness and quality – the students will finally bring their plastic blocks and brains to the table for the fourth-annual North Texas FIRST LEGO® League (FLL) Regional Championship Robotics Tournament, slated for Saturday, January 21, from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. at The Hockaday School (11600 Welch Rd., Dallas). The tournament is free and open to the public. The top team will advance to the World Festival in St. Louis, MO, on April 25 – 28.

Produced by the Museum of Nature & Science and presented by Lockheed Martin, the FLL competition pits 50 qualifying teams of young “engineers-in-training” against each other on a robotic obstacle course where the groups match wits with a coordinating research presentation. Teams build and program an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS technology to score points in 2.5-minute “mission” matches on a food safety-themed playing field.

With a mission to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, FLL engages kids through exciting, mentor-based programs that build math, science and technology skills. Aimed at an international audience of students, ages 9 through 14, the competition teaches real-world problem solving through engineering design and teamwork.

“The FIRST LEGO® League regional tournament is like a battle of the brains that’s exciting, fast-paced and keeps you on the edge of your seat,” said Stacey Bucklin, family and adult programs manager for the Museum of Nature & Science. “There’s a major focus on instilling good sportsmanship, teamwork, camaraderie and generosity to create overall positive experiences. Who knows, this year’s Food Factor Challenge just might lay the groundwork for these young competitors to become food scientists, microbiologists, product developers or game changers in the food industry.”

In 2008, the Museum of Nature & Science became the affiliate and operational partner for the North Texas FLL region. The Museum coordinates and oversees all North Texas FLL events, the largest of which is the Regional Championship Tournament typically held in January. FLL continues to grow in North Texas, from 25 teams in 2008 to 155 teams registered for the 2011 season.

The Food Factor Challenge
This season’s challenge was to investigate food and find one way to improve its safe delivery. Food begins to spoil from the moment it is harvested. An international competition, more than 200,000 youth from over 55 countries have explored food safety and examined the possible points of contamination – from exposure to insects and creatures, to unsterile processing and transportation, to unsanitary preparation and storage. In addition to creating an autonomous robot, each team had to identify a food safety problem and develop an innovative solution for a research project.

January 21 tournament schedule:

8:30 - 9 a.m.                 Opening Ceremonies in Match Arena
9:15 a.m. - Noon           Robot Competition (Penson Athletic Center) and judging (Middle School)
Noon - 1 p.m.                Lunch
1 - 3:30 p.m.                 Robot Competition (Penson Athletic Center) and judging (Middle School)
3:30 - 4 p.m.                 Robot Competition elimination rounds, if necessary (Penson Athletic Center)
4:30 - 5 p.m.                 Closing Ceremony and Awards (Penson Athletic Center)