More than 20,000 spectators, students, mentors, volunteers, and sponsors gathered last month to experience the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Teams from California, Illinois, and Michigan emerged victorious at the climax to months of regional competitions involving 1,680 teams from the U.S. and 10 other countries. The total FIRST community — with more than 196,000 students, 86,000 volunteers, and 3,500 sponsors this year alone — is estimated at one million strong and growing. With continued support from industry, the number of FIRST teams continues to grow despite the downturn in the global economy.

FIRST is a not-for-profit organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen to celebrate science and technology via robotics competitions worldwide. The group offers programs that motivate young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math while building life skills. Teams earned their invitations to the Championship by excelling in their regional tournaments in competitive play and sportsmanship.

High-school student teams built their robots in six weeks from a kit of hundreds of parts. This year's game, called Lunacy, tested the abilities of students and robots to pick up 9-in. game balls and place them in trailers hitched to their opponents' robots, while contending with the laws of physics on a low-friction floor. A longtime supporter of FIRST, Bishop-Wisecarver Corp., Pittsburg, Calif., sponsored Heritage High School's debut entry this year into the competition. Also supporting the competition is igus Inc., East Providence, R.I. The company donated plastic components to the kits as part of its Y.E.S. (Young Engineers Support)Program. For more information, visit www.usfirst.org.