A team of sixth graders in Chester County is to go up against 19 other teams this month in a national competition that asks students to use science, technology, engineering, and math to solve problems in their communities.
The three East Vincent Township students, who studied the quality and taste of their school's drinking water, are the only Pennsylvania students in the national contest.
The other national finalists in the Northeastern United States are from Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia.
The team - Jeanne Tokay, 12; Andrew Bilotta, 11; and Jackson Massey, 11 - is to be in Maryland from June 15 to 19 to present its project for the final time. Judges will name a winner from each age group.
National finalists in the 13th annual eCybermission competition, sponsored by the Army, focused their projects on alternative energy sources, the environment, food, health and fitness, force and motion, national security, and robotics.
Former winners have gone on to pursue patents for their projects, said Louie Lopez, eCybermission program manager.
The National Science Teachers Association administers the competition for students in sixth through ninth grades.
The "Aqua Squad" at East Vincent Elementary School investigated why students and teachers brought in plastic water bottles instead of drinking from the school's water fountains. Most of the bottles ended up in the trash.
The team conducted water quality and taste tests. The students found that cold water from drinking fountains tasted just as good as cold bottled water.
They shared their findings with their schoolmates and told them the money they collectively spend on bottled water each year could buy 355 iPads. They hope more people drink from the fountains, which are more environmentally friendly.
"It's been really neat to see them grow and continually expand their skill base," said Carolyn Mitton, a gifted-support teacher and the team's adviser.
A panel of judges that included Army scientists and engineers and STEM professionals chose 60 regional finalist teams from about 7,000 teams throughout the country. The judges then whittled that number down to 20 national finalist teams.
The panel scored the teams based on criteria that included innovative thinking.