BACON (Best All-around Club of Nerds)

BACON (Best All-around Club of Nerds)

BACON team at the Science Olympiad competition where they placed 5th in the state.
BACON team at the 2018 Science Olympiad competition where they placed 5th in the state.

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.

Essentially, BACON is a big, decentralized bunch of nerds who are empowered — but not directed — by their advisors. Founding adviser Dr. Matt Shields said, “It’s as far away from ‘My dad did my science fair project’ as you can possibly get.”

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!”


  • Zero RoboticsEvery single year since 2013, BACON has qualified for the global finals of this elite competition. During the finals, their code literally controls a satellite on the International Space Station!
  • FTC Robotics: BACON has qualified for states since 2017.
  • Jefferson Lab Regional Science Bowl: BACON has consistently done well and in 2018, they even placed 2nd to the perennial champ, the governor’s school for science.
  • Regional Science Olympiad: Not content to simply compete in a Science Olympiad event, BACON established and annually organizes the Central Virginia contest, attracting more than 1000 people each year. In 2018, BACON again qualified for the state competition.

Areas of Interest

Bacon Club developing Thin Sats.
BACON Club students working with U.Va. engineers to develop thin satellites.

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).

Field Trips and Partnerships

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.



Boy looking at 3D printer.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.”