Alyssa Morin

Northrop Grumman holds high school challenge in Redondo Beach

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The Lennox Math & Science Academy team from Inglewood celebrates a successful run on the competition track. The team placed first in the competition. Photo by Alyssa Morin.

The Lennox Math & Science Academy team from Inglewood celebrates a successful run on the competition track. The team placed first in the challenge. Photo by Alyssa Morin.

The Aviation Park Gymnasium was packed on Friday morning with students, parents and coaches cheering on their hometown team.

The crowd wasn’t drawn to the gym by a sports event, but by the Northrop Grumman High School Innovation Challenge.

Friday was the final stage of a 12-week competition that challenged local high school students to design and build an alternative-energy-powered vehicle that could carry a payload as efficiently as possible across a 30-foot track.

Six South Bay schools participated in the challenge: California Academy of Math & Science, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, El Segundo High School, Da Vinci High School, Lenox Math & Science Academy and Hawthorne Math & Science. Each team consisted of ten students, two teachers and a Northrop Grumman engineering mentor.

The team from the California Academy of Math & Science poses with their project.

The team from the California Academy of Math & Science poses with their project.

Over the course of the competition, the HSIC teams were graded on their ability to develop and document their vehicle design in a written report, present their concept orally to a panel of engineers and prove the vehicle’’s performance on the test track.

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The Lennox team gets ready for their track trial.

“The challenge exposes students to the major steps required to develop, document and demonstrate an engineering concept,” said Krystal Page, a systems engineer on Northrop Grumman’s space telescope project. “It teaches them how to design and present their ideas, manage a schedule and budget and prove that their concept meets the customer’s requirements.”

Each team was allotted $500 to create their vehicle. The first place winner receives $1250 for their school’s science department. Second place wins $750 and third place wins $500. There are also spirit awards given to outstanding participants.

“I think the greatest lesson the students learn is how to make changes when something fails in their plan,” said Brooks McKinney, director of communications for Northrop Grumman. “They have to make adjustments in real time like one of our engineers would.”

Daniel Lieu of the Da Vinci school explained some of the trials and errors his team went through designing their vehicle.

(From left) Summer Sharma, Aaron Tostado and Ernesto Amezquita of Da Vinci School in Hawthorne put the finishing touches on their design.

(From left) Summer Sharma, Aaron Tostado and Ernesto Amezquita of Da Vinci School in Hawthorne put the finishing touches on their design.

“At first we wanted to make a plane instead of a car but we had to abandon that,” Lieu said. “We also wanted to use a 3-D printer to make the vehicle but, three weeks into the project, the plastic kept jamming so we had to change that, too.

What they ended up with was a car run on solar panels with a 393 vex motor and what they call “swerve stoppers” to stabilize the vehicle.

Lennox Academy placed first in the competition. Hawthorne was awarded second place and Da Vinci, third. Peninsula High won the spirit award.

Friday’s challenge was just one of the ways that Northrop Grumman celebrates Engineering Week in the South Bay. They also host a model bridge contest, a day for students to shadow engineers in the workplace, a team egg drop contest, a “science of hockey” event with the Los Angeles Kings and a “leaning tower of pasta” contest.

“It’s a two-way learning street,” McKinney said. “We learn a lot from the kids’ thinking. Their thinking is so simplistic and we as engineers often overthink things and miss the obvious solutions.”