Students at Black Hills State University recently went nearly a mile underground at Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead with robots in hand made by middle school students. The BHSU Underground Robotics Competition gives BHSU students the opportunity to mentor local middle school students.
Throughout the past two months, BHSU students visited Belle Fourche and Spearfish middle schools to work with students to create the robots using LEGO Mindstorm kits. The middle schoolers engineered and tested their robots on an obstacle course at school. Then, they sent their robots underground at Sanford Lab with their BHSU student mentor to see how the robots would perform in the underground environment.
During the afternoon of the competition, the 22 middle school students met their BHSU student mentors at Sanford Lab to deliver their robots.
After traveling underground, the BHSU students landed on the 4,850 foot level of Sanford Lab and began assembling the obstacle course taken from the classrooms.
The middle school students watched the action in real-time via a live feed from the underground into a classroom at Sanford Lab. The middle school students were able to communicate with the BHSU students underground to collaborate and make adjustments to the robots throughout their individual runs on the course.
The middle school students also spent a “day in the life” of a Sanford Lab scientist, suiting up in coveralls and hardhats while learning what scientists do day-to-day underground.
The day was also a unique learning experience for the BHSU students. While underground, the students toured cutting-edge research experiments housed at Sanford Lab and the BHSU Underground Campus, while brainstorming ways they could conduct research in this unique environment.
Dr. Brianna Mount, research assistant professor of physics at BHSU, accompanied the students underground and explained experiments that are being conducted.
The winners of the Robotics Competition were Macy Sneesby and Cadence Jones from Spearfish Middle School. Their mentor was Rob Dahlenburg, a mathematics and science education major from Spearfish.
BHSU students were excited about the day and thought the competition turned out well.
Taylor Watkins, an environmental physical science major from Beresford said, “I think it went really well. It was nice to see the kids get more and more excited as their robots were more successful on the course. It was exciting for us too.”
Madison Jilek, a physics and chemistry major from Spearfish said, “I thought today went really well. Natural competition was more fun than I had expected. It was fun that the students were able to see us underground and give us critiques. You could hear them get excited about what we were doing a mile underground.”
Teachers who contributed their time after school and in planning the event included Teri Bauerly and Leslie Wangeman from Spearfish Middle School and Andy Johnson from Belle Fourche Middle School. Bauerly and Johnson are both alumni of BHSU.
BHSU students who served as mentors included:
Rob Dahlenburg, mathematics and science education major from Spearfish
Taylor Watkins, environmental physical science major from Beresford
Hannah Owens, biochemistry major from Spearfish
Sam Hintgen, science education major from Spearfish
Madison Jilek, physics and chemistry major from Spearfish
Drew Diedrich biology major from Spearfish
Amber Seidel, biochemistry major from Rapid City
Ivan Lazar, BHSU alum, biology major from Spearfish
Jacee Yoshida, biology major from Newell