Lawrence teams that placed in events at the KU High School Design Competition:
• LHS Lions 2, Jacob Magnuson, Michael Latham, Taylor Grob and Adam Hayes: second place, overall Rock Chalk Renaissance competition; second place, accuracy.
• LHS Lions 1, Justin Sorem, Joe Mikesic, Anish Patel and Donovan Barr: third place, overall Rock Chalk Renaissance competition; first place, velocity.
• LHS Lions 4, Cal Young, Lucas Suchy, Thomas Ezell and Scott Voigt: third place, accuracy; second place, presentation.
As Cal Young, Lucas Suchy and Thomas Ezell crouched over the pile of wooden blocks, their hands snaked in and out without hesitation.
Their arms intertwined but never tangled as, without any hesitation, they built a guard tower during the two minutes they were allotted. They knew just what to do, as they’d done it five times today already: one layer of blocks standing up, formed in a triangle, then one layer of blocks laid flat. Then repeat.
Young, Suchy and Ezell, all Lawrence High School seniors, were taking part in the KU School of Engineering’s annual High School Design Competition on Tuesday.
In the competition’s main event, called “Rock Chalk Renaissance,” 65 four-student teams from 24 different area schools brought in mechanical launchers they’d been constructing for weeks beforehand. One portion of the event simulated a medieval battle between kingdoms: Students had to fire Hacky Sacks with their launcher over a tower constructed by their opponents out of wooden blocks and knock over a chess piece atop a plastic jug — before their opponents knocked over theirs.
That event, called “Defend Your Castle,” played out in a head-to-head, double-elimination tournament. The team including Young, Suchy and Ezell, as well as LHS senior Scott Voigt, bowed out two matches away from the championship.
Victory was not the primary thing on the team’s mind, though, Voigt said.
“We’re really just interested in, you know, making this thing shoot,” he said.
“This thing” was a spring-loaded cannon. The team would pull back a handle to set the spring strength, place the bags on top of a wooden piston and tamp them down with a metal stick, which was decorated like a sword, in keeping with the medieval theme.
“And it’s just cool,” said Voigt, who is planning to study engineering at KU starting next year.
Before each match, the team had two minutes to use a set of wooden blocks to quickly assemble a guard tower, working from a computer sketch that the team spent weeks preparing.
Five teams participated from the engineering design class taught by Charlie Lauts at Lawrence High School, which also includes students from Free State High School. The teams have been planning and building their launchers for about three weeks during and outside of class, she said.
Lauts said the project was so intensive, with so many requirements and specifications to meet, that no team member could afford to slack off. Some students had to learn that their first idea is not always the best, a lesson that took longer for some than others.
Students also had to grapple with the concept of a firm project deadline, all the while scheduling around one another’s football practices, basketball conditioning sessions and after-school jobs.
“There are a lot of life lessons in this kind of thing,” Lauts said.
LHS junior Donovan Barr, a member of another LHS team, said his squad worked until 2 a.m. the night before preparing its entry. That team’s launcher was a slingshot catapult.
In addition to the castle competition, each of the “Rock Chalk Renaissance” teams took part in separate contests measuring accuracy and velocity of their launchers, and they also made a presentation to judges discussing their design and their construction experience.
In addition to the Renaissance Contest, other student teams took part in a Lego robotics competition.
The High School Design Competition is organized by undergraduates in the KU engineering school’s SELF fellowship program.
Nicole Rissky, a junior majoring in chemical engineering, was one of the student organizers. She said the objective was to build interest in engineering, science and math among high schoolers.
“We want them to get excited about it and not just think that it’s a total drag,” Rissky said.
Lawrence teams finished second and third in the overall Rock Chalk Renaissance competition, while a team from Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison took first place.