Students from Costa Mesa High School's MESA — Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Achievement — program took home 20 ribbons, five medals and one trophy during a regional competition last weekend.

The MESA program is made up of high school students who have an interest in pursuing careers in math-based fields, said co-advisor and math teacher Jose Poveda.

Poveda and physics teacher Marya Ras oversee the team, which meets during lunch to complete MESA-related exercises.

With a budget of only $40, 13 Costa Mesa High students built a prosthetic arm that would be challenged with three tasks during the competition. The team ranked third overall.

The first task was for the arm to pick up balls of various sizes and throw them into containers. Next, the arm was to grab items of various weights and transport them from one end of the table to a box on the opposite side.

Four freshmen ran into a problem during the second task. The arm abruptly stopped working.

"Watching their faces when the thing broke was heartbreaking," Poveda said.

The judges gave the team two minutes to fix it. After frantically working with the arms' mechanisms, the team stepped back and watched as it completed the next task of placing bolts on a plank and screwing them in place.

"They had nervous smiles, but you could tell they were OK with it," the teacher said, referring to the students.

The students were also required to present their findings to judges on a display board and write a 10- to 20-page technical paper that explained the science behind building the arm.