In 1989, entrepreneur and Segway inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit designed to discover and nurture the scientists and engineers of the future. Since then, hundreds of thousands of young people (kindergarten through grade 12) have participated in FIRST programs in 40 countries.
From April 16–18, 2009, some 10,000 students will gather in Atlanta's Georgia Dome for the 17th annual Robotics Competition, where teams bring their custom-built robots—everything from Lego-bots the size of an action figure to 130-pound contraptions that tower over their creators—to face off in engineering-based challenges. (This year, they'll play an elaborate basketball-meets-bumper-cars game called "Lunacy.")
Although boys outnumber girls in the competition by about three to one, O checked in with members of three all-female teams, plus one proud alumna.