Ahnand and Karuna Vethanayagam refuse to let a little distance come between them and a great challenge. So, later this month, the young brothers will climb aboard the 18-hour flight from their native Maharashtra, India, and head to The Tech Museum to contend in the Bay Area's largest team-design science competition, The Tech Challenge, presented by Cisco.
Once here, the home-schooled duo - also known as The Red Hot Chillies - will join nearly 1,200 students from New York, San Diego and the Bay Area, among other regions, in this year's challenge to clean up Trash Island: The Great Pacific Gyre. The whirling vortex is trapping human-produced trash, mostly plastic bits, and is ruining marine habitats and poisoning plants and animals - as well as humans.
"We thought it would be fun and invigorating to attempt to do something difficult like solving the problem of the Pacific Gyre," Ahnand, 13, says. "We only later realized that it was an enormous problem. We've put a lot of thought into the design (of our solution) and are quite confident that it will work well."
The Tech Challenge, a signature program of The Tech Museum, introduces and reinforces the scientific process with a hands-on team project geared to solve a real-world problem. Through the competition, students are introduced to science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), acquiring key skills for a 21st century global society. The project-based nature of the competition distinguishes it from many other science-based program for youth in grades 5 through 12. For more than two decades, The Tech Challenge has allowed some 14,000 youth throughout California, New York and other regions to hone their creativity and innovation on challenges that included building devices to fight wildfires, remove invasive fish from a lake, explore an Egyptian tomb and survey craters on Mars.
"A key component of The Tech Challenge is teamwork. Participants come to understand that open-mindedness, mutual respect, and cooperation with teammates often lead to the most creative solutions," says David Whitman, Executive Director of Signature Programs. "Teamwork can make the educational experience more fun and meaningful. It also fosters self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and new friendships."
Adding to the excitement of the April 30th event are the kitschy, tongue-in-cheek team names and costumes and their singsong chants and precisely choreographed dance routines. Combined with family, team mentors and spectators, more than 4,000 people are expected to cheer on the nearly 270 teams throughout the day. An awards ceremony recognizing "Best Overall Solution" to "Most Spectacular Failure" follows the event.
Ahnand and Karuna considered competing in the challenge following a museum visit last July. The boys' mother, who also doubles as their teacher, issued her own challenge: come up with an innovative solution and the pair could make the trip back to America to pit their solution against others'. The boys quickly got to work and now they'll get to compete in the 24th Annual event for their efforts.
Cisco, the worldwide leader in networking that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate, elected to sponsor the renowned Silicon Valley competition as a way to demonstrate how technology can help transform education as well as to encourage skills development in youth and social engagement through technology.
"The Tech Challenge provides students from all socio-economic backgrounds with a safe, entertaining and hands-on opportunity to engage in science, technology, engineering and math," said Sandra Wheatley, director, global community relations, Cisco. "The projects that participants lead foster creativity, innovation and skills that are essential to the students' later success in the global economy. Cisco is pleased to support this and other programs that enable diverse young people to reach their full potential while meeting the demands of the workforce of the future."
As for the brothers Vethanayagam, the thought of going up against hundreds of other students isn't daunting at all - despite their lack of science competition experience. In fact, they humbly argue quite the contrary: "We have never competed in science competitions in India," says Karuna, 11. "But we've taken part in and won awards in several spelling bees, and if we won (The Tech Challenge) competition in any of the categories, we would be encouraged and would consider returning next year."
Karuna, white cap, and Ahnand build what they hope is the winning rig at the 24th Annual The Tech Challenge
For more information on The Tech Challenge, visit: http://www.thetech.org/
Lead sponsors of The Tech Challenge are: SAP, Motorola Foundation and S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.
Other corporate sponsors include: Intel, EMC, JP Morgan Chase, Fairchild Semiconductor, Wells Fargo, Tellabs Foundation, Xilinx, Ernst & Young, The Tech Museum's Emeritus Board, Amgen, Symantec, SanDisk, TE Connectivity, Flextronics, Lockheed Martin, Technology Credit Union, PMC-Sierra, IBM, Sony Electronics, Hitachi Data Systems, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Integrated Device Technology, ScholarShare, The David H. Liu Foundation, AMD, ADC Foundation, DeVry University, SDForum Tech Women's Program, Team San Jose, NBC Bay Area, KTSF, Make: makezine.com
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About The Tech Museum
The Tech Museum is a hands-on science and technology institution designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in experiences that educate, inform, provoke thought, and inspire action. Ensconced in the heart of Silicon Valley, the museum captures the spirit of the region through innovative content and programs such The Tech Challenge, our annual team design competition for youth, and the internationally renowned The Tech Awards, which recognizes technology to benefit humanity. Daily, The Tech Museum celebrates the present and encourages the development of pioneering ideas for a more promising future.