Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream
by Joshua Davis
FSG Originals, Scientific American and FSG originals are affiliates, 2014 ($25)
In 2004 an upstart band of undocumented Mexican-American teenagers beat well-funded college teams to take the top prize in the Marine Advanced Technology Education remotely operated vehicle competition. The high school students surprised the judges with their creative engineering solutions and an “ugly” robot named Stinky that was built from scraps and cheap materials but nonetheless bested fancier entries from the likes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yet as Wired contributing editor Davis shows, over the years that followed, the U.S. has by and large squandered the talent the students displayed. Laws prohibiting in-state tuition rates for undocumented students made college unattainable to three out of the four. Only the fourth has a happier story. He was initially denied U.S. residency even after graduating with special honors from Arizona State University. Ultimately, though, an Illinois senator intervened to allow him back in the country, where he has realized his lifelong dream of enrolling in the military.
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For more recommendations and an interview with author Joshua Davis and robotics team member Oscar Vazquez, go to ScientificAmerican.com/dec2014/recommended