FIRST Robotics heralds new scientists

Dean Kamen is the man behind the Segway Human Transporter; he's something of a visionary, yes, but also a bit of an eccentric. Did he really believe people would embrace a two-wheeled scooter as the transportation method of the future? (Did he not realize we are all holding out for the personal jetpack?) While the jury may still be deliberating the success of the Segway, Kamen's record as an inspiration to future generations of scientists and engineers is unassailable. More than 20,000 high school students worldwide compete in Kamen's FIRST Robotics competitions, and any one of these young brains could be drafting the plans for our personal jetpack. Goosebumps, baby.

FIRST (an acronym for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology") gets kids started on the path to technological success by having teams of would-be engineers build robots to compete in a rigorous, highly structured game. Each team builds the same robot from a FIRST-provided kit, utilizing help from adult mentors and the kids' own natural smarts. The challenge comes from the game itself, which is played on a soccer-like field, but instead of kicking goals, robots stack "tetras" (large pyramid shapes) on targets. Competition is fierce, and RoboWars-type tactics are forbidden (check out for detailed rules), because Kamen wants the process to encourage "young people to dream of being science and technology heroes" instead of being technological marauders.

The St. Louis Regional FIRST Robotics Competition takes place at the St. Charles Family Arena (2002 Arena Parkway, St. Charles; 636-896-4200) Thursday through Saturday (March 10 through 12). Thursday is devoted to practice rounds, with actual competition beginning at 9 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Admission is free for all three days. -- Paul Friswold

Homing Advice

Not only are you just lazing about, watching the Law & Order dynasty nonstop, but Fuzz Muffin quit playing with Catnippers the Mouse in order to keep up with all 47 versions of the show, too. Worrisome, isn't it? Well, never fear: The Friskies Cat Team is here! These cats (and their human trainers) show you how to create a fun environment for your homebound bundle of fuzz during the St. Louis Builders Home & Garden Show at America's Center (Broadway and Washington Avenue). Throughout the show you can see the Friskies cats perform three times daily, learn more ways to improve your interior spaces and be garden-inspired by the four "Ultimate Backyard Living Spaces." The show runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday (March 10 through 13); admission is $3 to $8 ( -- Alison Sieloff

MOBot's Classy

The daffodils are blooming, the tulips are about to open, and the pruning shears are, what did that guy at the Home Depot say about hedge-trimming? Step back, Edward Scissorhands: The Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard) isn't about to let you face the coming spring unawares. It's offering a whole slew of adult gardening classes to help you prepare. "What Every Gardener Should Know" covers home-gardening basics every Wednesday from March 9 through April 6 (7 to 9 p.m.). "Pretty Partners in Shade," "Indoor Bonsai" and "Ferns in the Garden and Wild," all one-day classes, are also going on this week. March class prices vary from $25 to $175; register online at or call 314-577-9400 for more information. -- Amy Helms

Make a Beeline

SAT 3/12

Just how many types of bees are there? What's so special about their knees? What is it that these insects do all day? And, finally, can we trust them in our post-9/11 world? If your children have ever asked these or other questions about nature's stylishly striped insects, bring 'em out to the Butterfly House in Faust Park (15193 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield; for "Bees: Making the World a Pretty Place." During this 90-minute class ($13), eight- to twelve-year-olds dance as a bee would to indicate the location of sweet nectar and view a live beehive. To make a required reservation for you and your children or for more information, call 636-530-0076, extension 10. And don't bee late (ha!): "Bees" starts promptly at 2 p.m. -- Jedidiah Ayres

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