Winchester Science Centre challenges students across Hampshire in FIRST® LEGO® League tournament

Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium is holding a regional tournament for the FIRST® LEGO® League(FLL) on Thursday (14 December), when 20+ teams will compete for coveted LEGO trophies and the chance to enter the national  FIRST® LEGO® League.

FIRST® LEGO® League is a global science and technology competition for teams of students aged 9-16 years old. It is designed to encourage an interest in real-world issues and develop skills that are crucial for their future careers. The students work together as a team to explore a given scientific topic and plan, program and test an autonomous robot to solve several missions. 

“I can’t wait to see what the inventors of tomorrow come up with,” said Ben Littlefield, Head of Education at Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium. “FIRST® LEGO® League is a really fun way for budding programmers, robotics and robot wars fans to be challenged. To be successful they’ll need to apply STEM concepts, work as a team and add a big dose of imagination.” 

Each year FIRST® LEGO® League releases a new challenge for the teams and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) coordinates FLL in the UK and Ireland.

Teams have 10-12 weeks during the Autumn term to complete and test their entry before they compete in their chosen Regional Tournament. The winners of the Science Centre’s regional tournament have an opportunity to go on to the national finals. 

To see the result of the finals on Friday 14 December, click here. 

The seeds were donated to the Science Centre by the National Trust who own Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, Newton’s birthplace and family home. The young sucklings are being gradually introduced to the outdoors, once established they will form a display to inspire others about Newton’s revolutionary theories of gravity.

Newton’s story of the falling apple that hit him on his head has become one of the greatest eureka moments in the history of science. Allison Arrowsmith, Education Officer at Winchester Science Centre, who has a passion for gardening, took on the responsibility of germinating Newton’s apple seeds.

The Centre was given three seeds and it was unlikely that all, if any, would grow. To mimic their natural environment, Allison wrapped the seeds in a lightly damp tissue, sealed them in a freezer bag and kept them in the bottom of the salad drawer in her fridge to keep them cold, moist and dark. She successfully germinated two of the three seeds and carefully looked after them. The seedlings have grown into young sucklings and they are now back at Winchester Science Centre being cared for by Allison and the team.

“Under normal circumstances the plants would have been put outside to harden them up, but as the weather has been so hot I thought they stood the best chance being kept indoors,” said Allison. “This has proven to be the right approach. We will gradually harden them up by putting them outside during the daytime, particularly now that the weather has cooled down a bit. We just need to be careful during any really hot August days and then as autumn sets in, the plants will be more established and able to better withstand the climate.”

“They still have a long journey ahead, it will take up to 15 years for these young plants to mature into fruit-bearing trees,” added Allison.

Ben Ward, CEO of Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium said: “Sir Isaac Newton is one of our most famous scientists. By discovering the laws of gravity and motion and inventing calculus, he changed the way we understand the universe. We plan to provide a permanent home for the trees in front of the Science Centre as part of our welcome to our 170,000 visitors, and we hope it will engage young people with science and the fascinating story of Newton.”

The apple pips were given to Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium, among others, as part of the world’s first UNESCO-backed International Science Centre and Science Museum Day, which was held in November last year. Seeds from Newton’s apple tree also joined Tim Peake’s epic journey to space as part of his Principia mission, which was named after Sir Isaac Newton’s book about forces and gravity.

This project has been made possible through a partnership with The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC), the national charity that brings together the UK's major science engagement organisations.

Images (left to right): Ben Ward, CEO, presenting seeds to Allison Arrowsmith, germinated seeds, Jenny Shipway, Director of Learning and Participation and Allison Arrowsmith carrying the sucklings.