What if a super fruit could help astronauts avoid cancer from exposure to radiation while in space?

What if a virtual-reality program could help astronauts prevent depression?

These are just two of the ideas included in projects that will be featured at the Ohio FIRST Lego League Championship on Saturday, Feb. 2, and Sunday, Feb. 3, at Wright State University in Fairborn, where more than a dozen central Ohio teams will compete.

Sixty robotics teams will compete, according to a press release from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Educational Outreach Office, which is sponsoring the event. The state has 524 robotics teams, competition officials said, and from November to January, teams competed in 30 regional tournaments and six district qualifying tournaments.

Central Ohio teams include Techno Warriors and 8 to Automate, both sponsored by Dublin Robotics Boosters; Granville Master Builders from Denison University, Mechanical Masterminds from Hilliard's Avery Elementary School; Mechanized Eagles from New Albany Middle School and several community-based teams that draw from multiple schools and neighborhoods: Lost in Lego, Techasaurus Techno Storm, Robo Wizards, LV Super Bots, 31767 Mindstorm Monsters, AstroNUTS, Scientific Sorcerers, Robo Flow and Lavabots.

Community teams often but not always include children from multiple communities, schools and cities, said Brenda Ronnebaum, a director for the Ohio FIRST Lego League

The top seven teams will advance to other competitions based on how judges rank them for designing a robot and a project. They also will be judged on how well they exhibit professionalism, teamwork and inspiration.

Soham Gunturu, a 12-year-old seventh-grader from New Albany Middle School and a member of the Mindstorm Monsters, said his team began developing its robot in August.

Judges score a robot on how it is built, and the teams have to develop a program to enable the robot to carry out specific tasks, such as picking up and moving objects, he said.

Gunturu's teammate, Yashas Devulapally, a 10-year-old New Albany Intermediate School fifth-grader, said FIRST Lego League teaches students about developing simple programs to help robots achieve tasks.

The robots are built with Lego plastic blocks, said Samhit Kasichainula, a 14-year-old Olentangy Orange ninth-grader. Kasichainula, who is a member of the AstroNUTS team, said he always had an interest in robotics and wanted the opportunity to learn more about building one and making it run.

He said programming and coding is the most interesting activity he does within his group for the competition.

Robot design is just one facet of the competition. Teams must also come up with a research project. Teams had to identify a physical or social problem faced by humans during long-term space travel and propose a solution, said Rajiv Singhal, a Dublin resident who coaches the Mindstorm Monsters and AstroNUTS.

Though teams do not actually carry out the solution to their problem, they must propose an idea and what a solution would involve.

The Mindstorm Monsters researched a virtual-reality program astronauts could use in space to help with their mental health, said Sameera Devulapally, a 12-year-old New Albany Middle School seventh-grader. The goal would be to help astronauts feel like they are on Earth so that they could relax -- by playing a virtual game of pool, for example.

Vedant Dave, a 12-year-old Village Academy eighth-grader, said his team, the AstroNUTS, chose for their research project a way to create a super fruit to combat radiation in space. Creating the fruit would involve using a protein called CRISPR to transfer DNA codes associated with antioxidants into a host fruit.

Such host fruits could be a blueberry or pineapple, each of which already have antioxidant, he said. The super fruit could also be made even more powerful with the addition of the gene that would give the fruit a tumor-suppressant, cancer-resistant gene, Dave said.

Shivam Vora, a 10-year-old Village Academy fifth-grader, said the project helped her in science class during discussions about cells and DNA.

Ria Singhal, a 16-year-old Dublin Coffman High School sophomore, said she joined FIRST Lego League when she was in the fourth grade.

Now she is on a high school robotics team and mentors the Mindstorm Monsters and AstroNUTS teams her father, Rajiv Singhal, coaches. The FIRST Lego experience has made a big impact, she said.

"It just gives you a new perspective on things that you didn't know anything about."

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah