Whiz kids strut their stuff at South Florida Science Center

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Whiz kids strut their stuff at South Florida Science Center

WEST PALM BEACH — There’s nothing like an engineering competition to intimidate the heck out of people of a certain age. People who have ties older than some of the 400 or so elementary, middle and high school-aged youngsters competed for $5,000 in prizes Saturday at the South Florida Science Center’s 29th annual “Drop it, Build it, Float it, Launch it, Thrill it” event.

“They really give me hope for the future, ” gushed Kate Arrizza, the science center’s COO. “Have you seen them? I mean, they build rockets that go 1,200 feet in the air.”

Creativity abound at South Florida Science Center engineering event photo

Damon Higgins

Not just rockets. Rockets that, by rule, must be constructed from 2-liter soft drink bottles.

“Five, four, three, two, one,” the crowd shouted before a blast of pressurized air sent Angeline Castañeda’s rocket skyward.

Castañeda, 13, is one of 16 kids from the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — class at St. Luke’s Catholic School in Palm Springs. “They amaze me. Every day they teach me something new,” teacher Diane Bacchus said.

Eggs, on the other hand, were judged not by how they go up but how they come down. The winner is the lightest contraption that protects an egg from a 25 foot drop, from a Florida Power & Light Co. bucket, and then from 50 feet. Even a hairline is enough to knock someone out, Robin Jordan, one of the volunteer coordinators, said in his British lilt.

“It’s got to survive,” he said. And, pointing to some sticky yellow splotches on the pavement, “as you can see, a few haven’t.”

But so many did survive the 25-foot level this year that organizers had to run out for more eggs.

Gabriel Nieto and sister, Cristina, born 11 months apart and both 11, survived, at least at 25 feet. The siblings from Wellington had ensconced their ovoid in packing peanuts and a succession of foam dessert bowls, all held together with rubber bands.

David Lloyd George, 13, a student at Palm Beach Day School, made 25 feet but failed at 50 with his egg, surrounded by a toilet paper roll and packed in almond butter.

Jordan said another kid used peanut butter, also without luck; “I should have asked if it was crunchy or smooth.”

Across the way, the Nietos’ cousin, Eric Patino, 17, also of Wellington, was watching workers pour sand into a bucket hanging from his balsa wood arch bridge. The half-pound arch held a remarkable 19 pounds before it gave way.

“Float it” competitors had 40 minutes to construct a boat from two paint stirring sticks, two playing cards, two straws, two paper clips and electrical tape, and send it down a long waterway, pushed along by an electric fan.

Michelle Guzman, 16, from John I. Leonard High, made it all the way in eight seconds; “if I didn’t bump into the wall a little, I’d swear I’d have done five seconds,” she boasted.

“Thrill it” was all about roller coasters, some of which kids have slaved over for up to eight weeks.

Omar Hammad, 11, from Odyssey Middle in Boynton Beach, and some neighbor kids built their “Minecraft” contraption from air conditioner pipe insulation foam covers.

Dad Jamal sheepishly admitted, that, well, he was an engineer. He also admitted, “I’m telling him (Omar) to go for business. You make more money. “

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