When a group of fourth graders from New Jersey needed help with their First Lego League challenge, they called experts from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine.
First Lego League is an international program that challenges teams to research a real-world problem and develop a solution. This year’s topic focused on space. Teams also must design, build and program a robot using Lego Mindstorms technology, then compete on a table-top playing field – all in front of a panel of experts.
The team, called Legorio, chose to focus their research on isolation and communication in space. Their research led them to Emmanuel Ordonez, senior research manager, and Dr. Dorit Donoviel, director of TRISH, who helped provide guidance along the way.
“I was surprised at the quality of their questions and the level of enthusiasm,” Donoviel said. “They were so excited to talk to us. It is my hope that we inspired the next generation of scientists, engineers and doctors.”
The students presented their initial ideas to deal with isolation in space to Ordonez and Donoviel via Skype. These included using virtual reality to connect astronauts to home and providing astronauts with scents of their home so they could remember the smell.
Based on feedback from the Baylor experts as well as visiting space observatories and interacting with war veterans, the students opted to focus their project on developing virtual reality headsets that astronauts could take with them on deep-space missions, allowing them to see their homes and loved ones whenever they wished. They demonstrated their project on a second Skype call with Donoviel.
On Nov. 17, the team delivered their project presentation to a panel of judges where they also described the Lego robot they built and used it to complete a set of required missions that focused on the challenges of getting to and living in deep space.
The team learned important lessons about teamwork and discovery and applying STEM concepts to real-world problems. Maybe one day we’ll see them in the halls of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health!
-By Jeanette Sanchez