REV MAXSwerve wheel tread jig

In fall 2022, Triple Helix created a working drilling & marking jig to prepare replacement strips of treads for the aluminum 3″ MAXSwerve Wheel used on the 3″ REV MAXSwerve module.

This jig produces treads with the correct hole spacing for 3-ply black neoprene tread material (McMaster-Carr p/n 5994K1) such that the tread installs tightly on the 3″ diameter x 7/8″ wide billet wheel. Triple Helix found this working hole pattern through four rounds of guess-and-check iteration, and also by drawing on our past experience with the similar tread jigs we made for SDS wheels.

Drill bushings (McMaster-Carr p/n 96511A666) can be pressed into the fixture to ensure that the jig will remain usable for a long time, however users should note that they will need to grind a flat into these bushings since the screw placement is very narrowly spaced.

Onshape document

Newsletter: Triple Helix: semifinalists in WV endurance robot tournament

Last weekend, the Triple Helix Robotics team traveled to Morgantown, WV, where we competed in a field of 24 teams in an 26-hour overnight competition.

WVROX, “the world’s first and only FIRST Robotics Competition endurance event”, is held every two years at West Virginia University and is hosted by fellow NASA house team 2614 MARS.

Photo credit: Sanjay (FRC 4099)

In this challenging event, Triple Helix racked up 18 match wins and finished the event as semifinalists and captains of the 3rd-ranked alliance alongside our alliance partners teams 48 and 2656.

The team has now played well over 100 Rapid React matches– one of our busiest seasons ever. And it’s not done yet! We look forward to playing additional offseason events this fall, including the one we are co-hosting– the 7th annual Rumble in the Roads on Saturday, November 5 at Menchville High School.

We’re also well into our recruiting season for the upcoming school year, and we welcome any prospective new students and mentors to drop by any upcoming meeting to meet the team and learn about how to get involved.

Thanks for your support!

Matt Wilbur Award

In 2016, Triple Helix head coach Nate Laverdure established the Matt Wilbur Award named in honor of the team’s 2007 founder. Nate had this to say at the team’s season-end celebration banquet:

Triple Helix team members come in many forms. Tonight we have been celebrating the excellent work of our students, but it’s important to remember that the team wouldn’t be successful without the contributions of our other team members– parents, mentors, alumni, advisors, sponsors, and friends. After our seniors graduate and take with them all the things they’ve experienced during their time with Triple Helix, these folks are charged with carrying on the history, personality, and culture of the team.

The Matt Wilbur Award celebrates adult team members who effectively advance the mission and vision of Triple Helix by leading, inspiring, empowering, motivating, and influencing others. The award recognizes an individual who has advanced our community’s appreciation for engineering and engineers. This year’s winner will be inducted into the Triple Helix Hall of Fame, and in the future will be joined by one winner per year.

The Matt Wilbur Award reflects the name of our team’s founder. During his incredible 8-year period as head coach, Mr. Wilbur led Triple Helix to 5 regular-season wins and 20 official awards. His leadership established Triple Helix as a regional powerhouse of competitive excellence, which allowed us to recently become one of the winningest teams in our Chesapeake Region. He also saw 92% of graduates pursue their college plans, 83% of them majoring in a STEM field. Most importantly, he helped many Triple Helix students find something in themselves that they didn’t know existed, and helped others find outlets for things that they needed to show the world. Through the systems of leadership and project management that Mr. Wilbur established for the team, Mr. Wilbur laid the cornerstone for all that Triple Helix does and aspires to do.

Below, find more information about each of our honorees.

I am proud to present the winner of the inaugural Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Todd Ferrante.

The opportunity to learn from Mr. Ferrante was one of the key reasons I joined Triple Helix in 2014. He’s been pivotal to my growth as an engineer, a mentor, and a leader. He deeply understands the importance of carrying on the team culture, and he’s often the first mentor to demonstrate how the team works to new team members. When I work with him, I’m inspired to be a better mentor.

Mr. Ferrante explored exciting new roles during the 2016 FRC season. He served as a founding member of the board of directors for Triple Helix’s booster organization. He’s thrived as the drive team coach, directly leading a small group of students and expertly leveraging the support of the entire team, gaining huge victories for the team, on and off the field. In advising for the award, Mr. Wilbur had this to say about this year’s winner:

In 2011, Triple Helix was a team on the rise both competitively and with our outreach program. That year, however, Todd Ferrante arrived, and Triple Helix shot through the roof, largely due to Todd’s contributions to the team. That year, we won the Palmetto Regional and were finalists at the Virginia Regional, losing to the team that was eventually one of the FIRST world champions that season. We also won four other awards, causing everyone within FIRST to sit up and take notice. The team has continued to excel with Todd’s guidance, patience, and dedication leading the charge. Todd’s outstanding grasp of mechanical systems, patience with the students and other mentors, and his willingness to lead and participate in outreach efforts have undoubtedly made Triple Helix a significantly better team. I am pleased that I was able to mentor alongside of Todd for several years, and I am tremendously pleased that I am privileged to call him my friend.

Tonight I am proud to present the winner of the 2nd annual Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Matt Lythgoe.

Lythgoe is the team’s most senior mentor.  He joined the team in 2008 as a faculty advisor while teaching math, programming, and robotics courses at Menchville, and he has been an instrumental part of the team ever since.  His leadership helped set the foundation for the team’s successful approach to determining a game strategy and finding programming solutions to tough problems.  Sometimes using his special brand of sarcasm, he has set up highly effective work practices for the programming subteam.  His students have gone on to pursue degrees in Computer Science, Computational Modeling, Data Analytics, etc. and several have interned with him as they deepen their understanding of software development.

My experience working with Lythgoe in summer 2014, as we kick started the planning for the inaugural Rumble in the Roads, was my first exposure to Triple Helix and an important reason I joined the team later that year.  Since I took on my present role, he’s consistently served as an essential advisor.

Lythgoe is in tune with what’s happening at the leading edge of competitiveness in FRC, and the team has benefited from the relationships he’s grown with teams across the country.  His son Jackson is now only ~12 years away from being a Triple Helix student.

When I spoke to Matt Wilbur about this award presentation a few weeks ago, he said “Please extend my congratulations to the team for another fantastic season, and congrats to Matt for being selected to the Triple Helix Hall of Fame!”

Tonight I am proud to present the winner of the 3nd annual Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Bill Bretton.

Bill and I joined Triple Helix around the same time in 2014.  The first thing to understand about Bill is that his first priority is his family– that was evident from the very first time I met him, at an introductory meeting where he and Ben toured the workshop and met the rest of the team.  He told us that since being a part of Triple Helix was something Ben wanted to do, then he was going to be involved too– and since then, the Bretton family has become an integral part of the Triple Helix family.

Bill has been our electrical subteam mentor since day one, and in the past few seasons he’s also become our lead mentor for the pit crew at competitions.  Bill is quick to see the potential in his students and molds them into true members of a team.  In the past couple years, Bill has advanced our electrical subteam to the leading edge of technology in FRC and has made Triple Helix into a reference for teams in our area.  In the Triple Helix workshop and in the pit, he creates an environment where everyone performs at their best even in stressful circumstances.  When you are asked to be a member of a pit crew, you may have to fight an instinctive urge to immediately fix any problem you discover.  Bill’s pit crew isn’t reactive like that– the individual members of the pit have overlapping focus areas, they employ standard procedures which are deeply considered and evolve throughout the season, they follow information handoff practices to reduce misunderstandings, and they make big decisions based on trends.  It’s complex, challenging work that looks seamless because of Bill’s skill as a mentor and a leader.

Bill’s also a mentor to me– he has a deep empathy, especially for introverts, that he develops his guidance from.  He is level headed and has almost no cynicism, which makes him a good counterbalance against Lythgoe.  He can do a perfect impression of the look that my father gives me when he’s not mad, just disappointed.

I would like to thank Bill and his family for their work advancing the goals of Triple Helix in our community, and present him this year’s Matt Wilbur Award.

Tonight I am proud to present the winner of the 4th annual Matt Wilbur Award to team mentor Wendy Bretton.

Wendy is a rock star technical mentor. Under Wendy’s leadership this season, her programming subteam gave life to one of the most technically ambitious competition robots that Triple Helix has ever created.  The work we did this year in motion control, computer vision, and semiautonomous driving are star achievements that reinforce our team’s role as a technical leader in the FRC community.

Triple Helix constantly talks about our dedication to continuous improvement, learning from our experiences, improving and expanding our knowledge base, etc.  One aspect of this that doesn’t get as much attention is that, to find these lessons learned, you must go exploring outside your comfort zone.  Sometimes this can be a challenging, humbling experience.  One of Wendy’s greatest skills as a mentor is building a team around her that is eager to take on ambitious tasks, knowing that they have a lot still to learn.  She is adept at creating spaces where failure is experienced in a positive way, which is essential for growing people who do excellent work as a member of a team and have empathy for others.

One of the reasons I came to Triple Helix in 2015 was to seek out my own mentors.  I’m glad to have had the opportunity to work with Wendy, as she has been a great mentor to me personally.  Her input into team leadership decisions, including encouraging much more student involvement in steering our organization, has made the team immeasurably better.

I would like to thank Wendy for her work advancing the goals of Triple Helix in our community, and present her this year’s Matt Wilbur Award.

Newsletter: Triple Helix Robotics – quarterfinalists at IRI!

This summer, Menchville High School’s award-winning Triple Helix robotics team travels to two high-profile offseason tournaments where we compete (for fun and bragging rights) on a national stage against many of the world’s top teams.

These events are similar (in size, scope, schedule, budget, etc.) to our own “Rumble in the Roads”, a fall FRC offseason tournament that Triple Helix co-hosts alongside our friends 1610 Blackwater Robotics. This fall, the 7th annual Rumble will be held at Menchville High School on Saturday November 5.

Indiana Robotics Invitational (IRI)

Last weekend, we traveled to the prestigious Indiana Robotics Invitational, a 48 team tournament held over 2 days in Columbus, Indiana.

After successfully debugging a tricky networking problem on the evening of load-in, Triple Helix managed to squeeze out 7 wins in our first 11 qualification matches, demonstrating our robot’s ability to quickly cycle game pieces into the large central goal and, right at the end of each match, quickly hang on the “mid” bar for some critical extra bonus points.

Check out this 10-minute summary of the IRI by FIRST Updates Now!

Triple Helix was selected as the 4th and final member of the 4th-seeded alliance alongside world-renowned partners:

  • 195 CyberKnights from Southington, CT
  • 67 The HOT Team from Highland, MI
  • 2539 Krypton Cougars from Palmyra, PA

Our 4th seeded alliance paired up against an extremely strong 5th seed in the first round of the playoffs (a best of 3 series), and ultimately lost to them in our 3rd and final match of the event.

This success — 

  • to receive an invite to this amazing event
  • to be able to go
  • to put up a winning record in qualifying rounds
  • to be asked to join a playoff alliance
  • for our robot to touch the carpet and put points on the scoreboard in the elimination rounds

— represents the culmination of an amazing 2022 season for Triple Helix and is a massive honor for our team.

West Virginia Robotics Xtreme (WVRoX)

In 2 weeks, Triple Helix travels to Morgantown WV where we will play at WVRoX, a 26-hour overnight endurance competition.  We are really excited to play over 30 matches in a field of 24 great teams…

Check out this 1-minute teaser for the event!

Follow along

Our fans can follow along as we play at these events by monitoring

Also, while we’re at an event, the link should take you directly to a live stream of our matches.

Thanks for your support!

SDS MK4 swerve wheel tread jigs

Triple Helix designed and fabricated a set of drilling jigs to prepare replacement strips of treads for the Swerve Drive Specialties MK4 and MK4i swerve module. These jigs reproduce the hole spacing for black neoprene and blue nitrile tread material shared by SDS’s Patrick Woolfenden here; treads prepared using these tools install tightly on the nominal 4″ diameter x 1.5″ wide MK4 swerve wheel. Triple Helix used our 130W laser cutter to cut the components of the tread tools from 1/4″ Delrin sheet.

Onshape document

Assembly instructions:

  • Laser cut the top and bottom plates from 1/4″ sheet.
  • Laser cut the spacer plate(s) to match the thickness of the tread material.
  • Drill and tap the holes around the perimeter of the bottom plate to 8-32.
  • Drill the corresponding holes on the other 2 plates to provide clearance for an 8-32 fastener.
  • Install drill bushings (McMaster 96511A666) into the top plate such that they are flush with the lower surface.
  • Assemble the drill jig with SHCS 8-32 x 5/8″ LG fasteners.

2022 IRI application

Triple Helix students have proudly submitted the following application to the 2022 Indiana Robotics Invitational, a competitive and prestigious annual offseason FRC tournament in the Indianapolis area.

What competitions did you attend in 2022?

What was your best performance this year?

Triple Helix won our District Championship as the first overall pick of the event, and with a first-time robot driver. Over the season, we accumulated a 55-4-3 W/L/T record including a 27 match win streak and having gone undefeated at one district event.

Are there any special circumstances we need to know about?

Working with limited membership due to COVID, we focused on building the fastest possible Cargo cycling robot. With a simple robot design, and by devoting remaining time to practice and tuning, this strategy led to competitive success unprecedented for our team. We prioritized Cargo cycling to maximize points during teleop even during the last 30s; by ending matches with a buzzerbeater climb using an improved Everybot climber, we were able to rival Traversal climbers representing far greater resource investment and mechanical complexity.

During competition season, we selected and trained a new driver ~1 week prior to the DCMP due to an injury on the drive team. Triple Helix declined our invitation to the FIRST Championship due to travel restrictions by the school system.

Link to a team video, if you would like to share one.

Triple Helix featured in Jefferson Lab news

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) featured the following news story:


Jefferson Lab’s Nate Laverdure volunteers as the head coach of Triple Helix, a high school robotics team shooting to success this year

NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Excitement fills the air on game day for Triple Helix Robotics, a team of about 12 students and their seven adult mentors headquartered at Menchville High School in Newport News, VA.

“The energy is enormous,” said Nate Laverdure, who volunteers as head coach of the team year-round in addition to working as a cryogenics mechanical engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.  

A day of matches lies ahead, but it’s not the team members that will be on the field. Instead, the students will control a robot they spent the last three months designing, building and testing. 

These matches are part of the FIRST Robotics Competition, a worldwide league that releases a new game in January of each year before its competitive events begin in March.  

“All these teams have been working hard in their shops, solving these problems and figuring out how to play a game that nobody has ever played before. They are super excited to bring their solution and see how it does in competition,” Laverdure said. “It’s thrilling.”

Like many sports, the games that FIRST comes up with typically involve shooting balls into a goal for points. (But sometimes they entail throwing frisbees or hanging inflatable tubes on pegs.) For the 2022 game, the robots must pick up and shoot oversized tennis balls. Each match is a two-and-a-half-minute scramble to get as many balls as possible of their team’s color into a central goal. There are two alliances, red and blue, with three robots to each alliance. At the end, the robots climb as high as they can up ascending monkey bars to earn extra points.

The robot Triple Helix created for this year’s game is excelling. During matches, it zooms around, sucking balls off the floor and shooting them into the air like a pitching machine.

“Our robot is kind of blowing people out of the water,” Laverdure said. “I think it’s because we were able to design a fairly simple solution.”

The team designed and built their robot within a few weeks after the game was announced. They attribute their success to all the practice they’ve packed in since then.

“We have truly found world-class performance this year,” Laverdure said. “If you look at the stats in different directions, we’re pretty much in the top 15 of 3,700 teams worldwide right now.”

Triple Helix’s robot is so good, the team qualified for the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship, where they joined 60 of the top teams from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC to play the same game. Triple Helix won the 3-day event alongside alliance partners the RoboBees from Hollywood, Maryland, and the Warbots from Vienna, Virginia.

Before their last competition of the regular season, Triple Helix made some upgrades.

“We believe in the iterative engineering design process, so we’re going back and looking at our hypotheses and changing our solution and seeing if that improves our robot,” Laverdure said.

This same iterative design process drew Laverdure to Jefferson Lab after he earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Old Dominion University. Unlike most industry jobs, his work on cryogenic refrigerators at the lab allows him to cover the entire engineering life cycle, from conception to design, implementation and operation.

“I like using feedback from each step to make better and better solutions,” he said.

He instills this same process in Triple Helix members. Laverdure wanted to volunteer with a youth robotics team after graduating from college, because he participated in the FIRST program when he was in high school. His favorite part is watching the students grow—both in their technical abilities and as people.

“I wanted to design and build cool robots with high school kids,” he said. “It’s also really fulfilling when our students and mentors come together to tackle these crazy problems that, initially, nobody knows how to solve.”

Running the team has also taught him about project management and allows him to do the type of hands-on work he doesn’t get to do at the lab.

“I don’t even know where the closest wrench is here,” he said.

Laverdure is not the only one at Jefferson Lab who helps with a youth robotics team: More than a dozen others around the laboratory have volunteered with teams like Triple Helix.  

Triple Helix was supported by the JSA Initiatives Fund from fiscal years 2016 through 2020. Team members have participated in Jefferson Lab’s mentoring and internship programs, and some have even gone on to work at the lab.

Will Sapp, a former Triple Helix team member who is now a mechanical designer at Jefferson Lab, said some of his most memorable moments in high school were with the robotics team.

“Everyone was very diverse in experiences and backgrounds, yet with our common goal, we were able to make it to the world championship with our robot Genome Theta in 2016,” he said. Sapp worked under Laverdure’s guidance while on the team.  

“Nate played an instrumental role in guiding the team,” Sapp said. “It was and is clear that the students’ learning was a high priority for him.”

According to Sapp, Laverdure gave the students full creative freedom, but he was always available when questions arose. He said the team helped cement his career path.  

“It was actually because of my time on the team that made me think to apply here at the lab,” Sapp said.

He said skills he honed on the team, including machining, mechanical assembly, design, programming and electrical, “matched up perfectly with my degree in mechanical engineering technologies and propelled me into the field with confidence.”

Ultimately, getting students interested in STEM is what youth robotics teams are all about.

“We want to raise the profile of STEM as a potential career choice, as something these kids are excited by,” said Laverdure. “And the trick that we’re playing is that we’re making STEM into a sport. It’s not quite ready for prime time, but it’s thrilling in person.”

Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be tuning in.

Further Reading (Videos):
Triple Helix’s 2022 robot reveal 
Field-side footage of a match 
An explainer of the FIRST Robotics Competition

By Chris Patrick

Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office,

Triple Helix featured in Menchville HS student newspaper The Lion’s Roar

A feature article by student reporter — and new Triple Helix teammate! — Danae L appeared in The Lion’s Roar, the student newspaper of Menchville High School.

Danae Ludy, Staff Writer
April 27, 2022

While Menchville is known for its marching band, basketball team, and football team, I would like to shine the spotlight on the unsung champions of Menchville, the Triple Helix Robotics team.

Located in the back of Menchville’s Tech building, the Triple Helix workshop is outfitted with the most professional-grade equipment needed to fabricate an effective FIRST Robotics Competition robot. Students work alongside experienced mentors to develop valuable skills on this equipment. This equipment includes precision metal machining equipment including a 6×26″ manual mill with DRO and a 9×29″ manual lathe, an 80 watt CNC laser cutter designed and built by Triple Helix, and multiple 3D printers.

I had the chance to attend one of their meetings, and it was an experience I will never forget. The atmosphere was filled with creativity and inspiration, and the connection within the team among the students and mentors was astonishing. I got to experience first-hand what it’s like being a part of the team, including playing with the robot and learning how to mold two wires by soldering them. Solder, commonly misspelled as Sauter, is a fusible metal alloy used to create a permanent bond between metal workpieces. The solder is melted to adhere to and connect the pieces after cooling, which requires an alloy suitable for use as the solder has a lower melting point than the pieces being joined. I was also able to explore the workshop while seeing the team in action as they worked on repairs for their award-winning robot.

Although they have the same basic program foundation for actions like driving, each robot is uniquely catered to the challenge of each year that is announced on the kickoff day in January. The competitions take place throughout March and April. This year’s topic was Rapid React where two teams of three groups compete head-to-head to score their cargo balls into the lower and upper hub. They earn additional points if their robots traverse — travel across or through — the rungs of their hangar.

Triple Helix has a team of several mentors that is composed of Bill Bretton, Don Brunk, Cameron Caldwell, Todd Ferrante, Chris Garrity, Jasen Jacobsen, Amy Nichols, and the head coach, Nate Laverdure. According to Ferrante the “mentor philosophy” to teaching the right way has four steps. “I do, you watch. I do, you help. You do, I help. You do, I watch.”

The team includes students from Menchville, York High, Warwick High, Tabb High, Poquoson High, and Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and School.  The innovative and inventive Triple Helix robotics team is one of the best teams in the DMV (Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area.

According to their webpage, the “Triple Helix is the competitive robotics team of Menchville High School in Newport News, Virginia. They compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition as Team 2363.” Triple Helix was founded in September 2007 by its founding partner, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, to expand student access to scientific and technical education at Menchville. The team also represents one of its other well-known partners, the NASA Langley Research Center. As said by the team themselves, “A commitment to excellence is ‘in our genes!’”

Although the workshop is at Menchville, the designs are tested at the STEM Gym. Located at 11516 Jefferson Ave #2 and founded by the Intentional Innovation Foundation, the Peninsula STEM Gym is a place for student robotics teams to develop competition robots and have real-world engineering experiences that will inspire a lifelong interest in science and math. The STEM Gym features a 75% FRC practice field, a complete official FIRST Tech Challenge field sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding, and a meeting space for 20.

If you’re interested in joining or seeing the team in action, you can message the team at, swing by any of the meetings as posted on to meet the team and learn how you can get involved, and come out to STEM Day on May 21st at Christopher Newport University.

If you want to learn more, you can visit their website at