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Randolph-Macon Academy Teams Advance in TI Codes Contest

Update as of June 10, 2019: R-MA’s team Neptune Aeternum advanced into the final round! The winner will be determined via public voting. To cast your vote, visit the contest webpage ( between now and 11:59pm CST on Saturday, June 22. The team with the most votes at the end wins the grand prize package. The teams with the second and third most votes respectively will win runners up prize packages. Individuals may vote once every 24 hours, validated by IP and email address. (If you are using a shared computer and experience any issues during voting, try clearing your cache and browsing history to troubleshoot.) Final standings and winners will be announced on the contest webpage on Monday, June 24, at which time additional honorable mention awards from TI judges will also be unveiled. 

When Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) freshman Ethan Park was looking for a teacher to sponsor an Engineering Club, he didn’t really have an idea of what the group would be doing. Fortunately for him, Dr. Anthony Maranto stepped up to sponsor the club and had just the right challenge: for the cadets to create projects for this year’s Texas Instruments Codes Contest. The cadets broke into two teams of three, both of which have now made it into the semifinal round of the national competition.

“When I got the two emails that said both of my teams made it to the semifinals I was happy, but when I READ the emails and found out that only 10 teams nationally made it to the semifinals, I was very impressed,” said Dr. Maranto.

R-MA teacher Dr. Anthony Maranto, center, discusses the physical construction of the combination aquaponics/aquaculture device with students  Masaru Mori  and Sean Waddell.

The challenge for this year’s TI contest was to “design a product that automates or optimizes a process or product related to food, then use coding and TI technology to build a model of the solution.” One R-MA team, led by Ethan, is called Robo-tastic. They are constructing a box that will keep vegetables fresher for a longer period of time by killing bacteria with a bactericidal lab and adding humidity when it senses the humidity is low. The other two members of the team are freshman Amy Lin and sophomore Maxwell Yang.

“We’re measuring all these things, like temperature and humidity; we’re basically trying to control them. For example, we’re using Peltier plates to cool it down,” explained Ethan. “In your refrigerator are a lot of different things, like drinks, eggs. Their favorable conditions are different than vegetables’. This is specialized for vegetables.” 

The other team, led by freshman Sean Waddell, is called Neptune Aeternum. They are building a combination aquaponics/aquaculture device that will raise fish and grow plants while sensing water temperature and light and adjusting them. Freshmen Masaru Mori and Justin Meng make up the rest of the team.

“It’s for a DIY project, for small families, small homes,” said Sean. He said they were inspired by the idea of growing fresh, organic food for the R-MA dining hall. 

The students knew that their ideas were sound and had real, practical applications, but they didn’t think they were anything extraordinary. Therefore, they were surprised to learn they had made it into the top ten in the nation. 

“When I found out we made the top ten, I was happy,” said Ethan. “I knew we put in the hard work. I knew the project was good, but I didn’t know what other people were doing.”  

“I was personally surprised, because I thought that our group wasn’t doing that much creatively, because homegrown aquaponics are already a thing,” said Sean. But in this competition, the  coding and how it is used in the physical solution are important factors in who moves forward. 

TI sent each group a TI-84 Plus CE graphing calculator, a TI-Innovator Hub, TI-Innovator Accessory Packs, and a $50 Visa gift card for additional miscellaneous supplies. Now the two teams are scrambling to complete the prototype and coding for their projects while at the same time, they are studying for final exams. “It’s stressful, but rewarding and fun at the same time,” said Ethan. 

The five finalists will be picked at the beginning of June. On June 7th, voting will commence to select the final winner.