WARRENTON — Warrenton High School’s underwater robotics teams are headed to the Arctic Sea on a mission.
The team’s remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are needed to dive underneath the ice, collect samples of algae and sea urchins; identify and count species of sea stars; deploy an acoustic sensor; survey an iceberg to determine its volume; and inspect and repair parts of an oil rig.
For students, the North Bend Swimming Pool will have to stand in for the Arctic; ping-pong balls for algae; O-balls for the sea urchins; and PVC pipe sections for the acoustic sensors, icebergs and oil rig components.
Three teams from Josh Jannusch’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) course, who have each built their own underwater remotely operated vehicles, are heading to North Bend Saturday for “Science and Industry in the Arctic,” the 2015 Oregon Regional Marine Advanced Technology Education’s (MATE) ROV Competition.
“A lot of this is geared toward helping kids find out about jobs in the field they might not have known about,” said Jannusch, who started his STEM class this year with the help of his principal and a grant for the Verizon Foundation.
The grant helped pay for robotics and other class materials, and for Jannusch to travel to a faculty workshop through SeaMATE, where he learned how to incorporate the building of ROVs his students will put into regional competitions.
Blue Rangers by the pool
The Blue Rangers, one of WHS’ three teams, finished a test run April 17 of their robot, S.S. Bentley, in the school’s improvised Arctic Sea: a backyard swimming pool set up near the school’s bus barn with plastic ice through which their ROV descended into the depths — all 3 or 4 feet of them — to hook sea urchins and scoop up algae.
“We had a lot of trial and error,” said junior Brenton Davis, one of five members on the team, about putting together a working ROV. Davis is joined on the Blue Rangers by seniors Michael Suppa and Shaden Moss; and juniors Ashley Fish and Justice Watson.
Their team assembled every part of the S.S. Bentley, from its PVC frame, the claw that gathers the sea urchins and the net to scoop in algae to the hand-soldered and -wired remote control, motors and the shrouds protecting them, created using the classes’ 3D printer.
The Blue Rangers are facing off against five other teams in the Ranger class of the ROV competition, the highest for K-12 students and one step below the Explorer class, in which Clatsop Community College and other colleges and universities compete. Warrenton’s second team, S.S.F.D.R., is one level of difficulty below in the Navigator class, facing off against 11 other teams; and Team Gold is in the entry-level Scout bracket with 16 other teams.
The mission represents only part of the ROV competition, with students having to create engineering reports and presentations to an industry panel.
If WHS’ teams prevail Saturday in North Bend, they can qualify for the MATE international ROV competition June 25 to 27 in St. John’s, 1,300 miles south of the Arctic Circle and the provincial capital of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. The international competition will be held at the Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Marine Institute, home to the world’s largest flume tank, and the National Research Council’s Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering, which includes a large ice tank in a contained setting that can be cooled to 5 to -22 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate a polar environment.
Amidst the competition, the students of the Blue Rangers said they’re aware of the academic concepts they’re applying to design the robot, such as the physics of its movements through the water or the vector designs used in the creation of some of its parts.
“It’s kind of like critical thinking,” Watson said about applying classwork to a real-world mission. “It’s a lot more fun.”
Teaching through STEM
“It’s also a sneaky way of getting them to learn math and science,” Jannusch said of his mission to incorporate more practical applications into math and science education, which he added has been proven to improve students’ performance in the subjects.
The Warrenton-Hammond School District has committed itself to spreading STEM through every level of school. Davis and Fish, in addition to their own robotics team, are mentors under technology adviser Margaret Heyen to a First Lego League robotics team — the F1shst1ckz, in honor of Fish for her contribution — at Warrenton Grade School who recently competed in their own regional competition at Intel in Hillsboro.
Jannusch hopes to go for more advanced training with SeaMATE this summer and expand the ROV teams to Warrenton’s middle-schoolers. Principal Rod Heyen, supportive of new STEM opportunities, said he hopes members of WHS’ ROV teams will feed into CCC’s ROV Club, led by physics instructor Pat Keefe.
Keefe said his ROV Club, which has often performs well at regional competitions against more well-funded programs, will likely pull back from the competition this year. He added that the club is instead focusing its attention on working with a group of marine anthropologists to possibly explore the Beeswax shipwreck near Nehalem Beach.