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Seneca Valley students are machines in competition

Four Members of Seneca Valley Senior High School's team stand with their entry in the Chain Reaction Contraption Contest at the Carnegie Science Center on Dec. 1. Four team members are allowed to make the presentation during the contest. They were: Tanner Quiggle, Emerson Maloney, Kobie Rankin and Andrew Lingenfelter. Other team members were Cole Davis and Mike Palaski. The Seneca team won the Most Mechanical award. Its contraption illustrated the history of communication.

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Seneca Valley students snagged an engineering prize for making an easy task become a more difficult one.

Juniors Tanner Quiggle, Emerson Maloney, Kobie Rankin, Andrew Lingenfelter, Cole Davis and Mike Palaski made up the Seneca Valley Senior High School team that won the Most Mechanical award this month for its entry in the Chain Reaction Contraption Contest at the Carnegie Science Center.

“This group of students is one of those that can visualize something and then actually make it come to fruition,” said senior high gifted support teacher Dale Wagner. “Their imagination is off the charts. They really think outside the box.”

The competition on Dec. 13 sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Co. challenged students to create a complex machine to do an everyday task in 20 steps or more in the tradition of engineer and inventor Rube Goldberg, said Carnegie Science Center spokeswoman Susan Zimecki. This year's task was to communicate a message.

The Most Mechanical award went to the team that demonstrated the most mechanical nature of the machine through the use of levers, wheels and pulleys, while minimizing the use of power sources, said Allison Fisher, Westinghouse's principal engineer in safety analysis product line.

Carpenter Powder Products sponsored the award, and the prize is a tour of the company's facility in Collier, Zimecki said.

Seneca's entry traveled through the history of communication, beginning with simple chalk drawings and ending with HTML computer language.

Teams from the senior and intermediate high schools competed in the contest, which drew more than 30 teams from across the region.

Patti Griest, gifted support teacher and advisor for the intermediate high school team, said the competition serves as preparation for college-level and real-world engineering work.

Students had to adhere to a budget of $100, send in biweekly status reports and design plans and present their work to a panel of engineers at the competition.

“Ultimately, it's a really big teamwork challenge,” Griest said. “You have to figure out how to work together as a team. And the second part of it is, it's an open-ended challenge. There's no right answer.”

“The teamwork part of it exemplifies what engineers do in their day-to-day jobs, with meeting budgets and sending in reports on deadlines,” she said.

Both of Seneca Valley's teams began working on their projects in September and committed a couple hundred hours planning, designing and building, Griest said.

The intermediate high school team's contraption had a “Gilligan's Island” theme and communicated a message through a series of signal flags on a ship.

Members of this year's senior high team made up last year's intermediate high school team that took first place in the 2012 competition, so they were disappointed when they did not have repeat success, Wagner said. However, the experience made them more determined to win next year's contest.

“I told them sometimes you learn more from failures than from successes,” Wagner said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or

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