Large-screen TV close-up images of wheels spinning, gears turning, and sparks flying—and deafening cheers of hyped-up high school students—provided the backdrop for a high-tech gathering of future scientists April 4-6.

Accompanied by the music of NSync and the Backstreet Boys, stomping in the stands, and the pounding of crudely fashioned drums, 63 teams of high school students, teachers, technicians, and engineers piloted their robots in the United Technologies New England Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in New Haven, Conn.

"You can tell it isn't a science fair," Steve Prairie, a junior

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