By WRAL Tech Wire STEM News

RALEIGH, N.C. – Can local middle schoolers do a better job of solving our nation’s energy crisis than our world leaders?

Since the start of the school year, kids from across North Carolina have been participating in the 19th annual National Engineers Week Foundation’s 2011-12 Future City Competition. Now the moment of truth draws near as the regional finals are set to unfold on Saturday starting at 8:30 a.m. inside the Talley Student Center at N.C. State University.

Each year, Future City presents themes that highlight a current issue and asks kids to investigate and come up with solutions. Students start with a research essay describing their concept. They are also required to write a City Narrative outlining the key features of their city.

This year, students have been asked to address the theme – Fuel Your Future: Imagine New Ways to Meet Our Energy Needs and Maintain a Healthy Planet.

The objective is to design a method of providing electricity for a future city using an energy source that does not deplete natural resources and has limited impact on the environment. Addressing their alternative energy solutions, students consider the safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance of their ideas. They also learn about the engineering disciplines that encompass their solution, including learning and identifying the steps of the design process.

Nationally, 37 regions from around the country are holding similar competitions.

First-place winners from each qualifying regional competition earn a spot in the national finals in Washington, D.C., set to take place during National Engineers Week on Feb. 19-25.

The national finals grand prize is a visit to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., provided by national finals host Bentley Systems, Incorporated. The second place team receives $5,000 from the National Society of Professional Engineers and third place wins $2,000 from IEEE-USA for their schools’ technology programs. Shell is also a national sponsor for the competition.

As students envision new ways to produce electric power, they identify the benefits and risks of their energy source solutions. Participating students use SimCity 4 Deluxe software to design a virtual Future City model incorporating their ideas. Then they build a physical model using recycled materials which can cost no more than $100 to build.

This year’s competition is expected to attract more than 35,000 students from 1,300 middle schools in regions located across the country. The annual challenge has received national attention and acclaim for its role in encouraging middle schoolers nationwide to develop their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Conserving our country’s natural energy resources and find new ways to create energy is hot-button issue right now,” said North Carolina Regional Coordinator Chris Kreider. “This year’s challenge should attract even more attention than usual, as we are asking our students to tackle critical issues that our national leaders are grappling with as well.”

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