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It's after 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and several rooms in the Arconic Learning Center, formerly Riverdale Elementary School, are ablaze with lights and alive with energy, as 17 teenagers work on some aspect of the festival project.

Samantha "Sam" Crouse, a student at Pleasant Valley Junior High School, for example, is drilling a hole in the head of an ornament so a hook can be inserted to hang it from the tree.

Available for questions and to keep an eye on the activity are five adult coaches, but basically the kids know what they are doing.

Once they decided to do a tree, they brainstormed and came up with a dozen individual ideas for a total of about 200 ornaments.

Among the designs: red, white and green balls; red, white and green robots (doll-like creations); small picture frames into which they will place cut-up pieces of a computer motherboard.

Also, stars and candy canes made by gluing into shape and painting various lengths of bicycle chain. The latter is a key component in the making of robots that they use in their competitions — they act as the drive trains that make the robot move, said Jon Burgstrum, a mentor who has been coaching for 18 years.

By day, Burgstrum is the Scott County Engineer. He got into robotics when his children were in high school and although they have graduated, he is still mentoring. "It's nerve-wracking, exciting, frustrating and rewarding," he said.

To round out the ornament list, the students are making wood snowflakes using a computer numerically controlled router and several trees on an old-fashioned, hand-operated lathe. These were made on Saturdays in the garage in one of the student's grandfathers.

While the students work, Curt Hammer, another mentor, explains to a visitor that 3-D printing is what is known as "additive" manufacturing. Layer after layer of liquid plastic is laid down by a head, guided by computer-controlled instructions. As the layers grow, a form emerges. An ultraviolet laser cures the plastic as it takes shape. The time required to make an object depends on its size and complexity.

The other kind of manufacturing is known as "subtractive," in which part of a object such as a piece of wood or steel is whittled away until it is the desired shape.

"Additive" is more efficient because there is no waste, Hammer explained.

The team at Riverdale is the Q-C Elite, team number 648, known as the Flaming Squirrels. It consists of students from schools in the Pleasant Valley, North Scott, Moline, Muscatine and Davenport (Mid-City High), school districts.

While most teams are school-sponsored, Q-C Elite is its own community-based organization, established as a 501(c)(3), Burgstrum said.

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