Savannah Shuster of Lake Zurich never thought she would be offering advice to Deer Park village officials when she joined the Gem Miners team three years ago.
She and her teammates, all students at Lake Zurich Middle School South, presented a detailed report on how the village could conserve energy consumption at village hall.
"It was very exciting to be able to present ways that the village could conserve energy," she said. The team recommended the use of fluorescent lighting and motion detectors, among other ideas.
The Gem Miners do not make a living as energy consultants. The middle school students are members of a team that competed Saturday in a robotics competition held at Lake Zurich High School. Part of the competition included a research project in which teams chose a building in their community and explored ways to reduce energy consumption.
Sixteen teams from Barrington, Fox River Grove, Hawthorn Woods, Ingleside, Kildeer, Lake Zurich, Palatine, Rockford and Willowbrook competed.
"It's fun because you decide on the best way to build a robot with LEGOS. Each team comes up with its own design," said Ryan Cushman, 13, of Wauconda.
His team, Team Superbly Tenacious Engineers Exuding Lego Excellence, performed an energy audit on a local Dunkin' Donuts outlet. The team's research project took first place, helping the team qualify for state competition. The members are six home-schooled students from Lake Zurich, Wauconda and Hoffman Estates.
"We are all really excited. It's the team's first time heading to state," said coach Samuel Crupper, 17.
This year's theme was the Power Puzzle Challenge, which immersed middle school students in energy issues. For three months, students programmed their robots to accomplish 14 missions, all in as little as 2½ minutes.
Teams were judged on how well their robots performed in table action, as well as design and programming. They also were evaluated on their research project and teamwork.
Getting the robot to perform its mission under the pressure of competition was satisfying, but Shuster said she equally enjoyed designing and programming the robot, done during the fall.
"I just like being with friends," she said.
Winners of the Lake Zurich and 12 other regional contests will converge Saturday at Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights for the Illinois FIRST LEGO League state tournament.
Besides Team STEELE, the Electromagnetic Pulse Generators from Lake Zurich, the GearHeads from Hawthorn Woods, the Gener8tors from Barrington and the Windycity Shockwaves from Willowbrook will compete at state.
FIRST is an organization founded to inspire interest in science and engineering among young people. More than 10,000 teams of 100,000 students worldwide will compete in local tournaments culminating in the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in Atlanta in April 2008.
"There's just so much value in this whole program," said Sara Kaufman, the mother of Zachary Kaufman, a member of Team STEELE. "They have learned how to operate as a team made up of very different personalities."
FIRST LEGO League Robotics competitions were first held in Illinois starting in 1998 with the national pilot held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
For more information on the FIRST LEGO League competitions in Illinois, visit www.FLLIllinois.org.