Ten students from every grade and corner at West Ashley High came together last Friday and took home underwater gold in an underwater robotics contest held in Mt. Pleasant.
Led by the school’s science department chair, Margaret Spigner, its SeaPerch team saw classmates Trevor Reese and Matthew Heigtman take first and third overall, respectively, and Alaina Rink, one of a few girls in the contest, place third in an individual category.
Last week 19 different teams from a bevy of middle and high schools came to the Live To Play tennis and swim club pool with their school-built underwater rovers to compete in a series of wet challenges.
Teams had to race through an obstacle course, or pick up rings and bring them back for deposit in a poolside bucket. The SeaPerch program and contests seek to provide students with guidance and inspiration in the world of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math.
At the same time, it teaches fun lessons in problem solving and teamwork, according to Spigner, who works with the student team after school.
Time was of the essence in the WAHS effort, as the team didn’t find out about the contest until just a few weeks ago, and had to hustle to construct their rovers in time, leaving scant testing and “fun” time with the rovers before the contest, according to Spigner.
The rovers themselves would likely make Michelangelo blush. Constructed largely of polyvinyl chloride tubes (PVC), and adorned with a series of external whirring motors and propellers, the machines would have to deal with a host of engineering challenges: waterproofing, buoyancy, propulsion, steering.
Subtle changes in the salt level between the marsh water they practiced in and the pristine LTP pool added a competition-time challenge the kids successfully surmounted.
Tethered via cables and wires to a control box consisting of a series of switches to drive the motors, Spigner said it was tough initially for the kids to navigate, despite their exposure to video games.
Now, the challenge isn’t engineering or water-tightness. It’s money. Having qualified for nationals in Indianapolis, Spigner needs to raise $5,000 from the community to pay for the team to attend.
For more info about the SeaPerch program, go to www.seaperch.org/index.

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