San Jose, Calif. — More than 2,000 students — including a large contingent of Indian American youths — from all corners of Northern California participated in last week’s Tech Challenge, an engineering design competition now in its 28th year at The Tech Museum.

Each year, the Tech Challenge presents a real-world problem and asks young scientists to help to solve it. This year, earthquake safety was the theme — and the irony was not lost on the kids and their parents as the first day of the competition took place on April 25, just hours after a devastating 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal and killed more than 4,000 people. Their efforts to build safer structures gave this writer hope for the next generation of architects and builders who will make our homes a safer place, both here and in South Asia.

For this year’s competition, small teams from fourth grade through high school were tasked with building structures meant to withstand three simulated earthquakes of differing length and intensity.

The kids were given free rein on building materials and methods, but they had to adhere to strict guidelines on weight while trying to maximize surface area. They had just three months to design, execute and test their buildings — while learning how to collaborate with each other and keep detailed records of their experiments.

The Techtonic Dudes, three bright Indian American sixth graders from Hyde Middle School, a public school in Cupertino, Calif., took the Best Overall First Place prize for their structure. Harish Sundarkumar, Aditya Nair and Yashik Dhanaraj proudly accepted their award at the end of the competition.

“We were all shaking so much that we couldn’t shoot video,” a laughing Prema Dhanaraj, Yashik’s mom, told India-West by phone afterward. “There were happy tears coming. It was so fantastic.”

Tim Ritchie, president and CEO of The Tech Museum, said, “The tragic events in Nepal highlight the importance of seismic engineering and inspiring the next generation of engineers to think about real-world problems.

“It’s inspiring to watch these creative young minds hard at work and know they are up to the challenge of keeping us all safe in the future.”  

The Tech Challenge is one of the most diverse science competitions in the country, with more than 40 percent of the participants female and over 30 percent from low-income communities, said a spokesperson. This year’s sponsors included Cisco, Aruba Networks, SAP, EMC, Intel, Motorola Solutions Foundation and Samsung.

Next year, the competition will center on “flight,” and EMC will be the presenting sponsor. 

For a list of winners, visit thetechchallenge.thetech.org.

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