The goal of this year’s Invention Challenge was to build a device that could score a “hole-in-one” by propelling or moving a golf ball into a pyramid-shaped target. The team with the fastest time won. Credit: NASA/JPL

Students from 19 high school teams across Southern California, as well as NASA professionals, took part in a “Hole-in-One” contest in the Invention Challenge last month at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif.


Nineteen high school teams competed in this year’s “Hole-in-One” JPL Invention Challenge. Credit: NASA/JPL

The objective of the annual challenge was to create a device that could propel or move a golf ball into a pyramid-shaped target located about 5 feet (1.5 meters) away from the device. Only one attempt was allowed, and the team that completed the task in the fastest time was crowned the winner. Taking the top prize was Alexander Hamilton High School, located in Los Angeles. They shot a hole-in-one in just 0.6 seconds. Paul MacNeal of JPL created and produced the first Invention Challenge 16 years ago and has been running it ever since. “All students should be exposed to the fun of engineering in this thought-provoking event,” said MacNeal. “Students learn skills that are valuable, like brainstorming, teamwork, scheduling, fabrication, failure analysis and competitive design. When they see real engineers having fun, they can believe that engineering might make for a good career goal.”


JPLers also participated in the Invention Challenge. Pictured here is Jon Nelson, manager of online publishing, with his contraption. Credit: NASA/JPL

And while the Invention Challenge is really for the kids, JPL employees are always encouraged to participate. This year, 11 additional teams made up of engineers and scientists from JPL competed for pure bragging rights. The JPL winning team, consisting of Alan DeVault and Scott Nolte, earned a time of 0.62 seconds, a hair slower than the winning student team. If you’re interested in getting the specs on next year’s challenge, start checking the Invention Challenge Web site in mid-August 2014 for details, at:

This article appeared in the January 2014 issue of RocketSTEM. You may download the entire issue as a PDF file here, or view the magazine online in a full-screen viewer here.