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Costa Mesa High team's robotic prosthetic arm grabs second place at national contest

Four Costa Mesa High School students took the robotic prosthetic arm they spent months perfecting to the MESA USA National Engineering Design Competition last weekend in Ogden, Utah, and brought home the trophy for second place.

Nancy Le, Keiser Ruiz and sisters Sarah and Sylvia Catania earned their high placing through the combined scores on their technical paper, oral presentation, performance tasks and design efficiency.

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Though they took second place overall, they were first in the technical paper and oral presentation categories, in which they had to explain to judges how their arm was built and its key features.

The Costa Mesa students competed against the top high school robotics teams from California, Arizona, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington.

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Costa Mesa High's team qualified for the tournament by taking first place at the Statewide Prosthetic Arm Competition in May at UC Irvine.

At nationals, the team members wore their prosthetic arm to complete tasks such as picking up a bean bag and tossing it onto squares on the floor, grabbing objects and moving them across a table, and screwing nuts and bolts together.

They were the same tasks the team faced during the state competition, but there was an added challenge this time, the students said.

"The zones where we tossed the bean bags were slippery compared to last time," said Sylvia Catania, 18. "Out of 10 [bean bags], I was able to get in six."

The team's robotic arm is made of two 3-D-printed fingers, motors, a circuit board, connecting wires and a tennis ball container that the team members can slip their own arms into.

The students figured out how to build and program the arm through research and the MESA club at Costa Mesa High.

MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement) is an organization that provides classes and programs to schools.

Sarah Catania, 16, has been involved in the MESA club since her freshman year.

"Back then, I'd just imagine that I'd make it to nationals," she said. "Now it feels pretty good."

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Twitter: @AlexandraChan10

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