students getting judged for lego robot
Students compete for a place at the state competition. (Photo credit: UH IfA)

Hawaiʻi Island students had an out-of-this world STEM experience at the 2019 AstroDay West and 9th Annual Hawaiʻi Island Robotics Expo and Showcase (HI-RES) at Kealakehe High School on November 3.

AstroDay was sponsored by the Maunakea Observatories and coordinated by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Institute for Astronomy in partnership with Kealakehe High School. The STEM event gathered astronomers, engineers and educators statewide that gave the public an opportunity to learn about black holes, comets, the solar system and beyond with more than 60 interactive science activities and demos. The public also cheered on their favorite robotics teams.

“We have held AstroDays in Hilo since 2002,” said AstroDay organizer Carolyn Kaichi, “but we’ve only recently formed partnerships that makes it possible [to] bring our event to the west side of the island. It’s great to have the support of the business and education communities here!”

Observatories from Maunakea were also joined by two Maui facilities—the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) and the Las Cumbres Observatory based at Haleakalā.

“We’re also part of Hawaiʻi’s astronomy community and AstroDays are a fun way to interact with lots of people of all ages and support STEM in the islands,” said Tishanna Ben, DKIST education and outreach coordinator.

The robotics competition featured more than 200 elementary and middle school students who formed 25 teams to showcase their projects. From the 25 teams, 10 teams were then selected to compete in the Robotic Challenge.

The winning team, Kahakai Aliʻi ʻElua, will have two team members’ airfares sponsored by Maunakea Observatories as they move forward to compete in the state championships in December. Another Kahakai Aliʻi team, the Parker School Bionic Bulls and the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will also be joining them at states. Their alternate is the Waimea Middle School Paniolo team.

“The Big Island is such a huge place for astronomy and combining robotics is an awesome chance for kids to get both in one place and really understand how they connect in the grand scheme of things,” said Nathan Weir, Kealakehe High STEM Academy volunteer.

children with an engineer
An engineer from Las Cumbres Observatory on Maui explains how telescopes work. (Photo credit: UH IfA)