Student uses robotics to solve natural disaster during international competition
Douglas County High School sophomore makes 4th appearance at International Robot Olympiad
CASTLE ROCK – Douglas County High School sophomore Mitchell Lensing won’t be taking his finals next week. Instead, he is traveling to China to test his knowledge and skills against students from around the world.
This is the fourth International Robot Olympiad Mitchell has participated in, including one hosted by the United States here in Denver in 2013, in which several DCSD students earned medals. Previously he has traveled to China and South Korea, participating in the Creative Category, in which students must use robotics to solve global problems.
This year’s theme is natural disasters. While many students will likely work to integrate robotics into earthquake or flooding scenarios, Lensing decided to combat a geomagnetic solar storm. While most people are unaware of this danger, caused when the sun releases a coronal mass ejection, according to NASA there is a 12 percent chance of this devastating event occurring every 10 years.
Lensing did a lot of research on the topic and found that a small, but very powerful geomagnetic solar storm occurred in 1859, prior to much technological development.
“When it hit Earth, it created currents in the telegraph lines, shocking a telegraph operator and starting a few fires at telegraph offices,” Lensing said.
In 2012, another storm narrowly missed Earth’s orbit.
With today’s technology, if a similar storm hit Earth, it would be devastating.
“If directly hit by this, would send the planet Earth back to the Stone Age with nearly impossible odds of human survival,” said Randy Menzer, Lensing’s mentor and the head of Ameribotics, a non-profit that exposes children in Douglas County to robotics. “Everything, even the machines that make machines would be destroyed.”
For the past several months, Lensing has worked to create a system to both shield electronics from the storm, but also to help insulate the power grid from the energy it would cause.
“Magnetic currents induce current in anything metal, so I have a coil here and an Arduino (small computer). When it senses a voltage produced by the magnetic field in the coil, it turns off the grid,” Lensing explained.
Lensing says he enjoys participating in this category in the international competition because the students from other countries approach problems in very different ways.
“It’s cool, because you get to see different perspectives,” Lensing said. “The Chinese team, for instance – their thought process is different than the other teams.”
Over the years Lensing has made friends from other countries and he is excited to reconnect with them next week.
These relationships and experiences will no doubt help provide him the skills he may one day need to work in a global economy. Plus, he has brought back his experience and shares it weekly with students at Mesa Middle School.
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