BOZEMAN — Montana State University will host robotics competitions for Montana youth on Jan. 17-18, drawing nearly 120 teams from across the state and region.

FIRST Lego League teams, composed of students in grades 4-8, have spent months building and programming robots made from Lego kits and will compete by performing "missions" on pool table-sized playing fields. Students from grades 7-12 compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge with more complex robots in a larger arena. FIRST Lego Junior teams include students in grades K-4.

The events are free and open to the public. FIRST Tech Challenge begins Friday, Jan. 17 with an opening ceremony in Shroyer Gym starting at 9:40 a.m. On Saturday, in Inspiration Hall in the Norm Asbjornson building, FIRST Lego League robot rounds begin at 10 a.m., with a FIRST Lego League Junior showcase at 12:30 p.m.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology; to motivate them to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math; and to encourage team-building, imagination and critical thinking skills.

"What's great about this event is that it reaches all across our state," said Christine Foreman, associate dean for student success in MSU's Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. "We have teams from Eureka to Wyola, with dedicated coaches mentoring the students through this year’s challenge." She noted that many of our engineering and computer science students at MSU got excited about STEM by participating in FIRST.

MSU has been involved with the Montana chapter of FIRST since 2007. It was initially orchestrated by the Montana Space Grant Consortium and now organized through the engineering college.

A detailed schedule can be found at http://www.montana.edu/first.

The championship teams from the FIRST Lego League tournament will be invited to advance to the 2020 World Festival FIRST Lego League Championship. The championship will be held on April 15-18 in Houston, Texas.