Students top scientists in contest

Two hundred and sixty middle- and high-school students flocked to JPL's campus Friday to compete in the 13th annual Invention Challenge.

A total of 34 teams (19 student and 15 JPL teams) were challenged to create devices that would lift a ping-pong ball and hold it against a ceiling two meters (about 6.6 feet) above the ground.

Sixteen local schools, including Crescenta Valley, Monrovia, South Pasadena and Temple City High Schools, competed, but the Magnolia Science Academy in Carson came out on top, fulfilling the objective in .20 of a second.

Morningside (.30 of a second) and Crescenta Valley High School (.33 of a second) placed second and third in the student division. Magnolia Science Academy's time was the fastest of the day — even outdoing JPL's best and brightest.

David Van Buren and La Cañada residents PC Chen and Jack Kanholm were closest to Magnolia's time, completing the task in .23 of a second. Both teams tied for first place in the JPL division. Richard Goldstein (.30 of a second) and Bob Krylo (.33 of a second) finished in second and third.

Although Chen and Kanholm don't work at JPL, they were invited to compete as an honorary JPL team. They previously led La Cañada High's team for five years. That team, composed of both Chen and Kanholm's sons and other LCHS students, won the contest three times before, in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

"It's a lot different for us this year. It's a richer experience working with students, but it's much more efficient just working together," Kanholm said with a laugh.

Chen said the event gives students the chance to rub shoulders with JPL scientists while challenging their discipline and creativity.

JPL's Invention Challenge sets forth a different objective to accomplish each year. Student teams qualify for the event based on their performance in two regional tournaments in November.

Crescenta Valley High's team qualified to debut their contraption at JPL after working on it for two-and-a-half months. It was the first time the entire team had competed in the event, although the school has done so for years.

"It's cool and kind of fun because you don't have an immense amount of money or anything but you still get to solve a really big problem," said Julian Schur, a 17-year old Crescenta Valley senior.

Matt West, an 18-year old South Pasadena senior, said his team threw a plan together at the last minute just to be able to compete. West was just happy to participate, even though his team didn't place.

"Engineering is what I'm looking to get into for my career, so it's nice being able to come out here," he said.

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