Young Inventors Compete at International Submarine Races

A dark tunnel almost a mile long where Navy engineers test the latest equipment before it goes off to war has been taken over this week by the next generation of inventors.

Teams of young adults, mainly from college tech programs, spent the past two years getting ready for the international submarine races at the Naval Service Warfare Center in Bethesda, Md.

“What we’re really harvesting is the minds of these young kids that are going to be the future of the workforce here in the United States in the world, science, technology, engineering and math,” Naval Service Warfare Center head engineer Dan Dozier said.

Twenty-five teams from all over the world -- including Britain, Mexico and Oman -- have put together high-tech machines from scratch. One of the youngest teams -- from Old Saybrook High School in Connecticut -- breaks the stereotype that science and math is just for boys.

“We’re nine girls and three boys,” team member Julia McKay said. “It was all girls and then we had to get some man power on the team.”

The submarines are cranked by a single person inside pumping the bicycle pedals.  It’s pretty scary the first time you jump in, McKay said. It’s a small space, breathing compressed air is different, and you can’t see around yourself. You can only see down through the window at the bottom.

The Old Saybrook team broke its record, getting faster than 5 mph Thursday, the fourth day of the competition. Team advisor Gretchen Bushnell is amazed by the team’s progress.

“They’ve really learned to speak up for themselves,” she said. “They’ve really learned to take control of situations. They’re all leaders.”

When the competition wraps up Friday, each team will have raced its submarine about 15-20 times.  Prizes will be awarded for the fastest teams in each division. While Old Saybrook’s not likely to take home top honors, just being there to compete proves anyone can get involved.

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