Local robotics teams are calling this year's competition the most difficult one yet but say they're up for the challenge.

More than 40 student teams from Long Island schools gathered earlier this month to kick off the 2013 season of the FIRST Robotics Competition at Stony Brook University.

The teams -- and 2,000 other squads nationally -- received this year's game rules through a NASA satellite transmission from the New Hampshire headquarters of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

This year's theme, "Ultimate Ascent," challenges three-team alliances to score as many flying discs into goals as possible during a roughly two-minute match. Discs scored in goals that are placed higher are worth more points, and matches end with robots attempting to climb pyramids located near the field's center.

"The game is harder this year, for veterans and especially rookies," said Stephen Peroni, team adviser for North Shore High School in Glen Head, which won the Rookie All-Star Award at last year's Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. "The students are a little worried at having their hard work hanging almost eight feet off of the ground. At the same time, they are excited about the robot shooting Frisbees, as most play ultimate Frisbee themselves."

At the kickoff, teams picked up their kit of parts to begin the 42-day period of designing and building robots. The kit consists of motors, batteries and a mix of automation components -- but no instructions.

"The competition is not just about the design and building of sophisticated robots," said Ginny Greco, FIRST robotics director for the School-Business Partnerships of Long Island, which is sponsoring the Long Island Regional. "These students also develop maturity, professionalism and teamwork skills that enrich their lives."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The Long Island Regional will take place at Hofstra University April 4-6, and some teams will advance to the 2013 championships in St. Louis.



Reading Olympics

Dutch Broadway Elementary School kicked off its annual Parents as Reading Partners program earlier this month with an opening ceremony that celebrated this year's theme: Reading Olympics.

Every class was assigned a different country and entered the ceremony waving their nation's flag to a reading-themed version of Queen's "We are the Champions."

The four-week program rewards children for reading at home with a designated buddy for at least 15 minutes a day.



Breast cancer poster

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sylvie Rubin-Budick and Katherine Lee, seniors at Great Neck North and Great Neck South high schools, respectively, were named first-place winners in a national poster contest held at the Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program Conference in San Francisco.

The conference is a joint effort co-sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute.

Their poster depicted research they performed last summer at the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in Massachusetts, in which they explored replacements for the toxin BPA. The toxin is found in some household items and has been linked to breast cancer.



advertisement | advertise on newsday

Curbing teen drinking

Michael Garcia, Jennifer Gentile and Michaela Beck of South Side High School recently received a Weill Student Social Action Grant of $425 from the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island for their project aimed at curbing teen drinking.

The project, titled "Drinking is not a minor problem," aims to educate adults about New York's social-host law, which forbids providing alcohol to minors. The teens have enlisted local liquor stores and pizzerias to place signs in windows and stickers on pizza boxes to help inform people of the law.


Lego League

A group of 38 teams from local schools participated last month in a practice tournament for the upcoming First Lego League Qualifying Tournaments, which are slated to kick off later this month.

This year's theme, called "Senior Solutions," focuses on solving problems that senior citizens face. Teams will partner with local seniors to learn about their struggles and together design and create robots to help improve these setbacks.

The tournament will take place at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island on March 3.

At the practice tournament, Girl Scouts of Suffolk County Team 7892, aka the Radical Robots, from Bayport-Blue Point and Sayville won the Robot Performance Award, while Team 3817, aka Awesome AHApers, from Dix Hills won the Gracious Professionalism Award.