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03 13 2019

Italian students supported by NCI Agency win innovation award at national science competition

Students from all over Italy gathered in Rovereto on 8-9 March 2019 to compete in the national FIRST LEGO League Into Orbit Challenge. FIRST LEGO League releases each year a worldwide multi-part challenge on a scientific topic. This year's competition, "Into Orbit," is focused on space. 

One of the teams competing in the Italian challenge, the MyCollego Team, had a little help from the NATO Communications and Information Agency. Military technicians and civil engineers from the NCI Agency Satellite Ground Station F14, in Lughezzano, mentored the team leading up to the challenge.

And the MyCollego Team won a national Global Innovation Award, which it will receive in Rome. Now the team will prepare to compete in the international competition for the award. If it is one of 20 teams selected, the team will go to San Jose, California, for the final judging.

The team also won a slot to compete in the Open International Lebanon competition in June 2019, and received a scholarship to visit the Space Camp in Izmir Turkey in June.

"Regarding space, I think it is a very broad subject and a bit far from our reality as young students, but also very interesting," said MyCollego teammate Elena Pomari, who is 12 years old. "This activity has made us want to study and investigate new topics."

Pomari said robotics are our future.

"Therefore, it is very important to learn how to programme because knowing how to do it will open up new avenues in our working future," Pomari said.

The competition includes a robot game, a technical test and a scientific project presentation. For one portion of the competition, students were asked to programme an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field.

In another component, teams were asked to identify a physical or social problem humans face during long duration space exploration. The students designed a solution to share during the competition.

Italian students supported by NCI Agency win innovation award at national science competition


"We really liked their approach," said 13-year-old MyCollego teammate Giulia Piccoli of the NCI Agency mentors. "For example, in the coding of the robot they did not do the work for us, but gave us inputs, ideas. And then we were the ones who found the solutions."

Piccoli said the team enjoyed the NCI Agency staff's mentorship because it gave them a chance to practice different languages.

"We also liked the fact that we had to get involved with our skills in foreign languages, since the civil engineers spoke mainly in English or French, and their Italian was very limited," Piccoli said.

Many months of preparation went into last week's challenge.

Teachers assigned the students topics to study related to space travel. The students would share what they learned about their particular topic with their classmates.

Agency technicians and engineers held meetings to help the students develop an approach to tackling the project. They gave the students a method that would help them hone in on one problem, and develop a solution.

The students had to compete to get on the MyCollego Team. They gathered three afternoons a week to work on their challenge.

"I loved to work as a team during the afternoon with other students of various classes and ages, and do school differently than in the morning," said teammate Alessia Castagna, who is 13 years old.

The MyCollego Team won its regional qualifier on 26 January 2019 in Reggio Emilia, Italy

"Thanks to this competition, I discovered a great passion for science and the desire to become a researcher in the field of physics," said Luca Corbioli, who is 13 years old.

For the project portion of the competition, the MyCollego Team developed a prototype for electromagnetic shoes to anchor astronauts at various work stations. Currently, astronauts on the International Space Station just slip their feet into straps attached to the "floor."

Csaba Grunda, a Site Engineer for Satellite Ground Station F14, provided his expertise on the prototype.

"My goal is not to tell them what to do and how, but to teach them the ability of design-thinking and object-oriented problem-solving techniques so that they can do the work themselves," Grunda said. "I am very happy to see that the idea is working at every age and they are succeeding with their project."

Local sport shoes factory Gaibana, which already produces training shoes for European Space Agency astronauts, was also involved in the project. The factory physically created the shoe prototype presented during the challenge.

"Our team has been participating in this competition for 5 years because it gives us many opportunities and allows us to discover new things while having fun," said Sofia Brunelli, who is 13 years old.