Staff Adviser: Karl Helmstetter
BACON (Best All-around Club of Nerds) is the internationally acclaimed science club at Charlottesville High School. Established in 2010, the club has represented Virginia in elite competitions such as the MIT- and NASA-sponsored Zero Robotics programming tournament. In addition to competitions, students work in self-directed teams in areas such as environmental impact (Green BACON), aerospace engineering, and more.
Shields continued: “To call me their advisor is a bit of a stretch. Every cool thing about BACON, including the name, was some student’s idea. The students come into the lab and start their own projects. They even helped design the lab itself!”
In addition to competing, BACON students use the facilities and the Charlottesville area’s expertise to explore areas of interest from programming to aerospace engineering to environmental impacts. From time to time, they launch rockets or they send up and retrieve weather balloons with a go-pro camera into near-space. In 2018, students worked with engineers at U.Va. to design and launch a “thin satellite” (about the size of a large piece of toast).
BACON students get around, traveling to labs at U.Va., Northrop-Grumman, Jefferson Lab, MIT, and even CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, located in Switzerland. And if you count their programming operating on the International Space Station or their weather balloons entering near-space, they even go to space itself. BACON students also volunteer at Charlottesville’s elementary schools and other community events.
The foundations of BACON’s success comes from students’ own passions and interests. These passions and interests are fostered by Charlottesville City Schools’s K-12 iSTEM program and an acclaimed engineering program that starts at Buford Middles School and continues through CHS. As Dr. Shields says, “By the time a child goes through, say, Johnson Elementary and on to Walker and Buford, and then comes to me at CHS with all these years of science and engineering experiences, the sky is the limit. Wait, our students are already programming satellites on the International Space Station, so the sky is NOT the limit. But you get the point.”