Nebraska 4-H will host a First LEGO League qualifying tournament at Nebraska City High School on Saturday, Jan. 7, beginning at 8 a.m.
Twenty-eight teams are expected to compete in the event, which is open to the public.
It will be one of six qualifying tournaments held across the state, with the state championship set to take place Feb. 18 at the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland.
“We love spectators at the event,” said Brandy Wagner, educational engagement coordinator and Nebraska First LEGO League affiliate partner.
“In my opinion, the Nebraska City qualifier is hands-down the most lively tournament we host in the state,” she added.
Nebraska City Middle School’s teams have been preparing for the event since the school year began, said Deb Weit-zenkamp, UNL Extension educator, as part of the school’s after-school clubs program.
“It’s up to every team to decide when to start,” she said, “ and the Nebraska City kids have been meeting Mondays through Thursdays (and some Saturdays) since September.”
Weitzenkamp explained that one of the Nebraska City teams is working on how to deliver birth control darts to wild mustangs in Nevada to make it safer for both the horses and the people than the current method of shooting darts at the animals from a helicopter, while the other is working on a “shark tickler” that will use low-voltage electricity to deploy a net to protect beach-goers from shark attacks at the shore line.
To design their projects, students met with scientists, engineers and UNL staff to discuss how the technology they wanted to use in their projects is being implemented now.
For example, the students working on the drone project met with  people who use drones in ag-related applications, said Weitzenkamp, while the team building the shark tickler reached out to marine biologists in Australia and Hawaii to gather information for their project.
“We had to stretch our wings a bit,” she said, “since there aren’t a lot of marine biologists in Nebraska.”
Saturday’s event will have several parts to it, said Weitzenkamp, including robot building, project design and problem solving.
Some students work on the technical end of the project, while others develop innovative solutions to the assigned problem, which this year focuses on how animals and people can work better together.
Teams are evaluated on how well they work together as a team, said Weitzenkamp, as well as how the team works with other teams at the competition for the betterment of society under the umbrella of “gracious professionalism.”
“In middle school it’s a really important thing to learn,” she said, “that you can achieve things by working together.”