lego gatwick stem robots
This was the fourth consecutive year Gatwick hosted the Sussex and Surrey FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) regional tournament. Source: Shutterstock.

To the average person, the prospect of spending an entire day in Gatwick Airport isn’t likely to sound appealing.

Yet this January, students from seven schools in the United Kingdom had to do exactly that. But they weren’t waiting begrudgingly for a delayed flight – they were building LEGO robots.

This is the fourth consecutive year the airport has hosted the FIRST ® LEGO ® League (FLL) regional tournament, a robotics-based competition designed to inspire and enthuse nine to 16-year-old students about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects.

While this may sound pretty modern-day, the competition dates back two decades to 1998. It began in the United States but has since spread across the pond to the UK.

What started as a local competition with just 210 teams has ballooned into a global tournament with around 30,000 teams competing. Annually, it sees over half a million students partake.

Every year the competition is given a theme. For 2018, the theme was ‘Hydrodynamics’, or the flow of fluids. The robots built are to use, transport and dispose of water.

A set of missions tested the hydrodynamic capabilities of the robots.

The panel of experts, including Gatwick staff, crowned Reigate St Mary’s School the winners.

So what now for the team? They are off to the FLL UK and Ireland final, planned to take place at the University of West England (UWE). If they taste success there too, they will jet over to the US, Hungary or Estonia to represent the UK and Ireland in the international championship.

“The day is always such an action-packed and vibrant event and it is a pleasure to be involved each year,” Jo Mckinney-Green, Operations Manager, STEM Sussex, University of Brighton told West Sussex County Times.

“It is incredibly rewarding to see the young people taking part with great enthusiasm and talent and we are delighted that it has such a positive impact on them in terms of their immediate studies and on their future ideas and aspirations.”

The educators aren’t the only ones pleased with the tournament.

“With a background in engineering myself, I was extremely impressed by the standard of entries and the high level of enthusiasm with which the teams approached the competition,” said Gatwick’s Chief Operations Officer Chris Woodroofe.

“Our objective as an airport is to inform the next generation of young people about the wide range of jobs that STEM skills are needed for, and help to build a pipeline of talent for the future.”

Mandy Workman, Education Manager at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), agreed young people need to be educated in STEM subjects, noting that raising children to believe they can pursue them is crucial to the future of the modern world.

The tournament hopes to inspire young people to pursue STEM subjects. Source: GIPHY.

And what better way to do it than with a toy children the world over enjoy?

Workman told West Sussex County Times she thought FFL was “a great competition because it develops the skills needed in our future engineers such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork.”

Most importantly, “it really inspires students and makes STEM subjects so much fun.”

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

Young girls aren’t pursuing STEM subjects: Why? And how can we help?

What Lego’s new NASA series tells us about women in science