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Hard work + ingenuity = blue ribbons


Carl Miller's got a girlfriend, his mother wants you to know.

"He's not a total nerd," Karen Miller said with that motherly twinkle that tells you she's proud as can be of her brainy son in the tennis shoes and baggy black pants.

Carl Miller, a senior at Arundel High School, designed and built a fairly incredible airplane that won a blue ribbon yesterday at Maryland's High Tech, Math, Science and Engineering Fair at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

The weekend fair showcased Maryland students in third to 12th grade who had built contraptions such as robotic retrievers, Mars landing vehicles and cargo cranes -- miniature versions, of course, but workable ones. The students were judged on teamwork, design, drawings, written report, oral presentation and demonstration of their finished products.

The fair was sponsored by member associations of the Engineering Society of Baltimore.

Carl Miller built his plane for the cargo aircraft competition with help from his brother, Aric, a ninth-grader at the same school. The idea was to build the lightest plane to carry the heaviest load. His motorized plane of balsa wood, glue and polyester film weighed 102 grams and carried 65 grams.

That seemed to surprise everyone, including Carl, who's been building things since he was born, his parents said. His mother, a computer specialist, said they have pictures of Carl as a baby playing with blocks -- except the blocks aren't strewn about as they are in other babies' pictures; they're arranged in complicated designs and structures.

"We knew right away he was going to be an engineer," said his father, Carl Miller, (not "senior;" he and his son have different middle names), an engineer himself, as well as a builder of harpsichords and radio-controlled airplanes.

"He built a plane out of loose pieces of wood when he was 5," he said.

Carl Miller, the son, figured his plane would carry 13 grams yesterday, more or less. But after it easily got off the ground with 12.2 grams, he added washers and nuts to the tiny cargo bay and flew the plane with 24.4 grams, 37.5 grams and finally 65 grams.

He wanted to go for more, but about then the TV stations showed up, and they needed to film the plane in the air, not straining and jerking to lift, say, 100 grams.

And anyway, he was involved with another project -- patching a hole in his pants with masking tape at the insistence of his parents.

Who knows when a boy might get the chance to be on the 6 o'clock news again?

In another room of the museum, eighth-graders from Pimlico Middle School let out a whoop when they won the blue ribbon in the cargo crane competition. They created their own crane company, the MESA Pacers. MESA stands for Math, Engineering, Science Achievement, the name of their club at school.

About 40 students are members. At least once a week they come to school at 7:45 a.m., nearly an hour earlier than other students, to meet and work on projects together. The ones who built the crane and showed up yesterday are Warner Shorter, Allen Brown, Michael Truesdale, Tamara Mayfield and Olivia Adams.

"It was fun," Olivia Adams said. "I like working on projects. When I grow up, I want to be an engineer." She said that her mother and father work in a factory and that she wants something better for herself.

Jackie Schrenker-Case is a highway designer who served as a professional mentor to the Pimlico students. After they won first place, she said, with urgency:

"These kids were phenomenal. I mean, these kids, these inner-city kids, they can't be written off. It's important to get these kids now, before they get into everything, drugs and everything. But these kids, I haven't seen as much enthusiasm in kids in years. Working with them has been one of the most satisfying things I've done in years."

Olivia Adams and Tamara Mayfield stood side by side and stared at the highway designer as she talked. They seemed transfixed, maybe a little disbelieving. But when Ms. Schrenker-Case stopped, they glanced at one another and smiled -- then bounded off to destinations unknown.

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