Outreach Engineering Challenge

The Challenge

INFINITY Science Center is challenging K-8, 9-12 & community college students to design and build an alligator-resistant device to sample water in their neighboring ponds that can be deployed from land, maneuver to a given location, collect a sample, and return to land for retrieval. Prototypes may not exceed $250 in total cost.

Students must present their prototypes in person at the MTS/IEEE OCEANS 2020 reception, held Monday, October 19, 2020, in Biloxi, MS, at 6 p.m.


  1. Teams must exist of at least 1 and no more than 4 individuals.
  2. There are three categories of teams:
  • Grades K-8
  • Grades 9-12
  • Community/technical college (no age limit)
  1. All team members entering the challenge must be either:
  • currently enrolled in a state-approved, U.S. public, private or home-based primary school, secondary school or community/technical college, OR
  • enrolled in said school/college in fall 2019, spring 2020 or summer 2020. (i.e., you may compete the summer following graduation/move/etc.).
  1. Teams with members from grades that cross challenge categories much participate in the category of the senior team member (i.e., if three members are in 6th grade and one member is in 9th grade, the team must enter the 9-12 category). Participants are to enter the category of the grade they will be enrolled in on October 19, 2020.
  2. Students may enter the challenge independent from a school and/or form a team with members from more than one school. All prizes will be awarded to the team.
  3. Students must have a teacher or other professional sponsor (e.g., a community partner or a parent).

Official Rules and Requirements

Prototype Rules

  1. The prototype may not exceed $250 in total project cost.
  • Teams must keep and submit receipts in order to prove the team did not surpass $250 in cost for the prototype.
  • If teams are building on a water-based, remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) platform they already have and, thus, did not incur cost for this project, the team must prove ownership of the ROV prior to November 2019.
  1. The prototype must have a camera and light. The camera would ideally have 360-degree view, consider placement.

Note: The INFINITY ponds have low visibility; the degree of low visibility varies throughout the year. Please account for this challenge. INFINITY must be able to use the camera in real time to navigate the pond for sampling and exploration.

  1. The prototype must be able to collect a water sample of at least 50mL.
  2. The prototype must be able to be outfitted with adjustable clamps for a probe.

Note: You do not need to supply the probe, only account for the ability to attach the probe. The necessary probe reads water temperature in Celsius, pH, alkalinity, conductivity, dissolved O2, and nitrates. The probe measures 342 mm (13.5”) long with a diameter of 46 mm (1.8”).

  1. The prototype must be highly maneuverable, moving in all planes: forward and backward, side to side, and up and down in the pond. The device would ideally achieve a hover at neutral buoyancy.

Note: This allows researchers to get a good view of the pond in all directions and plan the exploration and sample retrieval. 

  1. The prototype must be alligator resistant.
  2. The prototype may be tethered or untethered.

Note: There is a slight preference for untethered but an untethered prototype must be easily retrievable. 

  1. The prototype should produce minimal sound.

Note: The prototype should be able to observe species that are easily frightened; therefore, the quieter the prototype, the better.

  1. The team’s chosen power supply should be eco-friendly.

Challenge Day Rules

  1. Participants must check in on October 19, 2020, between 10 a.m. and no later than 10:30 a.m.
  2. Receipts must be provided at check-in.
  3. The presence of least two team representatives is required to be eligible for competition. (For solo teams, the team member and sponsor satisfies this requirement.)
  4. Each participating team must display their final prototype on the 6-foot table provided. Prototypes must remain on display until 6 p.m.
  5. Though not required, additional materials, such as design sketches, notebooks, video, photos, etc. are permitted as long as all content is contained on the table provided. No material may be located on the floor. No power is provided.
  6. Judging of the prototypes will commence at 11 a.m. Team members must be at their table with their prototype to be judged. All team members are encouraged to participate.
  7. Team members will be interviewed by judges. The teacher/sponsor may be present but may NOT answer any questions from judges. Any teacher/sponsor answering questions will result in the disqualification of his/her team.
  8. At least one team representative (member or sponsor) must be present to receive an award at 6 p.m. Though an absent team’s prototype may be adopted; an unrepresented team will not be awarded any prizes.


Registration will be handled in three parts: (1) statement of intent, (2) official registration and (3) check-in.

Statement of Intent: Groups intending to compete in the engineering design challenge (EDC) should state their intent via the web form online between November 1, 2019, and September 15, 2020. The statement of intent process will collect contact information, competition categories as well as other information pertinent to the execution of the EDC. Stating intent does not obligate participation. By stating your intent to participate, you’ll be reminded of upcoming deadlines and other EDC information.

Complete your statement of intent online.

Official registration/confirmation: Participants will be asked via email to confirm participation by registering online between September 15, 2020, and October 2, 2020.  You may register without first stating intent.

Check-In: Confirmed participants will check in to the MTS/IEEE OCEANS 2020 conference on Monday, October 19 at 10 a.m. Each participating team will be provided one table on which to display their prototype. Judging will commence at 11 a.m.  The presence of least two team representatives (This may be a solo team member and sponsor.) is required to be eligible for competition.  Prototypes must remain on display until 6 p.m.


Several non-cash prizes have already been secured; additional prizes will be added before October 2020.

Grand Prize: The team of the overall winning design will be invited to University of Southern Mississippi’s Mississippi Polymer Institute to see their design 3-D printed. The final version will be implemented at INFINITY Science Center. The grand prize-winning team will receive a plaque and other non-cash prizes. 

Category Prizes: Awards will be granted to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each category (K-8, 9-12, and community/technical college). All category winners will receive a plaque. Additional non-cash prizes will also be awarded.

Grant Opportunity

Grants of up to $250 per team are available to participating teams. Grants will be bestowed only to teams who register, check-in and present on October 19, 2020.

Receipts related to the prototype are required.  Grants will be paid on Oct. 19, 2020. No grant funds will be provided for transportation, lodging, meals or other travel expenses.

Facebook Live Q&A

Together with representatives from MTS/IEEE 2020 Gulf Coast, INFINITY Science Center will host four Facebook Live Q&As on the INFINITY Science Center Facebook Page prior to field day testing. Potential and registered participants are encouraged to view the Facebook Live to ask questions and learn more about the unique challenges faced by INFINITY. Videos will be available on Facebook for later viewing by other participants. The first Q&A is February 2020. Additional dates and details are TBA. Participation is not required.

Field Testing at INFINITY

Representatives from INFINITY Science Center will host teams who wish to field test their prototypes in the INFINITY Science Center ponds on two separate days prior to the challenge presentation. Teams must sign up in advance.  Dates and details are TBA. Participation is not required.


Shannon Mensi, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Shannon.Mensi@nrlssc.navy.mil, 228-688-5328

Jeanne Allen, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, allen.jeanne@epa.gov

Laurie Jugan, Mississippi Enterprise for Technology, lajconsulting@bellsouth.net