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From robots to waterfowl

Front Row (left to right): Laila Thompson and Stephanie Mathes. Back row: (left to right) Noah Painter, Blake Riddle, Ben Foster, Mattie Miller, and Joey Hopkins.


Staff Writer

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It’s a tradition; you go to a pond and feed a group of ducks white bread. But it can also be a pastime that is harmful for waterfowl—and the South Central robotics team is determined to put an end to it.

The team adopted Angel Wing Syndrome as their main project for the year. The syndrome can occur when any sort of waterfowl ingests an excessive amount of protein found in foods such as white bread, popcorn and even chips.

This can cause the bird’s wings to twist upward and impair its ability to fly. It’s this effect that interested South Central’s robotics team in learning more about the syndrome.

For robotics team member Laila Thompson, the idea to study Angel Wing Syndrome was also important because of the relevance to this area.

“We were trying to find something that we could really try and help with,” Thompson said. “We know they’re around here, a lot and people have always fed them white bread. So it really would affect people around here and animals that live around here.”

Not only did these South Central students learn all they could about the disease, but they also decided to go public with their findings. The team has contacted parks such as Warrior’s Path and Sycamore Shoals in order to warn them of this disease. They have also started an initiative to educate the public by creating pamphlets and signs designed by David Crockett High School to post at area bodies of water to keep patrons from feeding waterfowl any harmful foods.

“We made that mistake last year (not publicizing their work); We had a good project, but we didn’t really tell that many people,” robotics team member Joey Hopkins said. “We just kept it inside the school. This year we want to tell more and more, just be able to get it out there. Not only in this area, but the nation.”

The robotics team has worked to publicize their findings on the syndrome, but they’ve also created a low-calorie bread to substitute for other high-protein foods that can harm the birds. Robotics team member Noah Painter played a large role in creating the one-of-a-kind recipe.

“We were trying to figure out what could be done. There’s not really a good bread to use,” Painter said. “It has fewer calories but costs about the same price. It’s just better for them.”

The animal-friendly project isn’t South Central students’ only focus though. The team competed in the regional competition at East Tennessee State University in December where they won first place in robot design and second in robot performance against 24 other area teams.

They’ve also been gearing up for a science bowl at the Eastman Auditorium in Kingsport on Jan. 26, but their eyes are set on their trip to the state competition in Cookeville, Tennessee on Feb. 11.

At the competition, the team must come up with attachments for their robot in order to complete their assigned mission. But after gaining some experience during previous competitions, the team has worked on their strategy before heading to the state competition at Tennessee Tech.

“When we went to regionals, we had all types of attachments we could use, but we knew that state would be harder,” robotics team member Mattie Miller explained. “So we’re going to try to do one that way it takes less time taken to put them on. That way it’s just one go-around. We’re trying to do the mission in one round.”

These projects and adjustments take time and dedication—which is something South Central science and social studies teacher and robotics team mentor Ginger McAmis said these students certainly have.

“Our days that our teachers come and they can stay home—our in-service days—they come up here and work on it,” McAims said. “They’re very dedicated. They do it themselves. And they work well together.”

But for these South Central students, they have a goal apart from science bowl trophies and functioning robotic structures—it’s all about reaching out.

“The point isn’t really to win,” Miller said, “it’s about discovering new things and helping other people discover new things.”