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 national high-tech gathering Saturday of ambitious scientists.

Accompanied by music by ‘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.

“You can tell it isn’t a science fair,” Steve Prairie, a junior from Rockville High School said above the din.

The goal was to use a home-built robot to put as many soccer balls in a container as possible and get the container into the goal area.

Teams were given six weeks to design, fabricate, build and ship robots, East Hartford High School teacher Chuck Nystrom said.

School team members included technicians, engineers and “The Bulldog,” a plywood frame with a chain drive transmission, ball pickup apparatus with roller belt drive to roll the balls into a rectangular basket.

The Bulldog is radio-controlled by a computer link supplied by FIRST, which began the competition with 28 teams 10 years ago. More than 20,000 students are participating on more than 600 teams nationwide and in Canada, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

–Associated Press