While the 2012 FIRST LEGO League Scandinavia finalists had a blast in Fornebu, the competition is more than just fun and games. For main sponsor Statoil, creating engagement around science is vital to solving great challenges in the years ahead.
Participants lined up on the outskirts of the main stage. The music blasted. The announcer pushed the crowd to higher levels of applause.
As team names flashed on the jumbo screens – Tricky Technic, NXT Robokit, Dudes of Norway – members waved banners and signs as they weaved their way through a maze of flashing cameras, whoops and whistles.
Just like the Summer Olympics wouldn't feel like the Summer Olympics without an opening ceremony, neither would an Olympics of the Mind. And that's exactly what this was.
2012 FIRST LEGO League Scandinavia finalists at work.
(Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland)
The best 43 teams from all around Scandinavia gathered to see whose self-made, programmed Lego robots could best perform a number of tasks when battling against the others on the main stage.
In the booths the teams competed for the research prices by showing off their "Senior Solutions" – proposals and inventions designed to ensure a better quality of life for the elderly.
All of this brings a giant smile to Statoil research, development and innovation head Karl Johnny Hersvik's face.
"It might not be so obvious what experimenting with LEGOs has to do with drilling for oil or building platforms 2,000 metres below sea level," he says. "But there's actually quite a bit in common. It's working in the exact same manner as researchers. You try things out, make mistakes, think, and use your creativity to find your way to a solution. Sometimes it can be easy – and other times it's extremely complicated."
As populations grow, so do issues related to both climate and energy demand. The keys to solving these and other significant issues are highly specialised skills.
Karl Johnny Hersvik, Statoil's head of Research, Development and Innovation. (Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland)
Statoil sees a waning interest in the sciences in both Norway and internationally, and is addressing the issue head on in terms of both finances and focus.
"We invest about USD 17.5 million every year in stimulating interest in the sciences among young students, along with contributing to researcher education and basic research. We do this because we are totally dependent on these competencies as a company," Hersvik says.
And some of the most important aspects of this work are highlighting to young students exactly what is so exciting about science, and why science creates opportunities.
"The sciences are about creativity and solving difficult problems. The FIRST LEGO League is a practical example of how young students can utilise creativity and logic to solve complex tasks. Surveys also show that participation helps increase science interest and strengthens problem solving and teamwork skills," he says.
By inspiring these young students, Statoil hopes to add quite a few new scientists and researchers to the company's – and society's – ranks in the not-so-distant future.
When asked if he'd like to work in the sciences in the future, 12-year-old Martin Bjaadal Økter of Crazy GENeration 2.0 could hardly contain his enthusiasm. He and the rest of his team then showed off their drink carton cap opener. It's designed to help seniors with arthritis open and close beverages easier…and it's made entirely of Legos. And it works perfectly.
Today, they're opening up drink cartons. But tomorrow…who knows what sort of opportunities this experience will open up for them?
The 2012 FIRST LEGO League Scandinavia finalists had a blast in Fornebu.
(Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland)