Emma Field and Nicole McKeon will be among 500 school students - and a record number of girls - bending it like Beckham on the robotic "soccer field" at UNSW this week.

The year nine students from the Marist Sisters' College will take part in the soccer category of the Robocup Junior NSW Open competition. It showcases some of our most gifted up and coming scientists and computer programmers.

The event is the school-age counterpart of the university-level Robocup Senior, and involves categories including robot dance, search and rescue as well as the more sophisticated soccer.

The ultimate goal of Robocup is to eventually build humanoid robots to take on the World Cup Soccer winners in the year 2050.

The students, whose robots are all autonomous and not remote controlled, have already competed in school and regional-level events. This week's winners will go on to compete in the Australian Open on the Gold Coast in September and could also have the opportunity to travel to China next year for the World Cup.

The Australian Dance team are the current World Champions.

Brad Hall, development manager at UNSW's School of Computer Science and Engineering says the University decided to host the Robocup Junior NSW Open when it saw how it promoted engineering and computing disciplines.

"For several years interest in computing degrees has plummeted, but the number of jobs is soaring. One of the problems with encouraging students to choose computing has been an image problem. This competition helps to show that computing today is more about design and that it is fun for both boys and girls."

Marist Sisters' College first introduced robotics three years ago in the Year 7 Technology syllabus.

This year it was extended into Year 9 elective Design and Technology. These girls were the first students to have done robotics in Year 7 and have now been able to extend their skills via robo soccer.

"Our objective is to get it into all the schools so that it is common place," says Robocup Junior Committee chairman, Michael Schofield.

"All the people who do it love it and anyone who's been in contact with it thinks it's fantastic and wants to know how they can get it into their schools.

"The other thing we endeavour we do is to provide funding to encourage underrepresented groups within the competition. We find there's a very strong gender bias... encouragement means getting it into girls' schools."

For the girls at Marist Sisters' it was an exciting and fun way to apply science and maths in a practical way and learn more about the possibilities of engineering and computer programming.

"You would expect Robo Soccer to be a more boy-orientated project, but we enjoy building, programming and cheering our robots just like the boys," Emma says.

What: Robocup Junior NSW Open EventWhen: 9th - 10th AugustWhere: UNSW Roundhouse, Kensington Campus

For more information go to www.robocupjunior.org.au

Media contacts: Steve Offner, UNSW Media Office, 02 9385 1583 or 0424 580 208, Michael Schofield, Robocup Junior Committee, 0412 498 966, Brad Hall, UNSW School of Computer Science and Engineering, 9385 6625, Antonina Arcidiacono, Marist Sisters' College 0412 601532

Date issued: 8th August, 2007