ST. ALBANS – A group of sixth graders from Tess Bashaw’s Voyagers class at St. Albans City School will find out in May exactly what they’ve won after successfully competing in the U.S. Army sponsored eCyberMission, in which kids apply science, technology, engineering and math methods to tackle real world problems.

The kids, Chloe Weinstein, 11, Aryanna Flemming, 12, Alexia Wheeler, 12, and Forest Berno, 11 (turning 12 in April), learned recently they won either first or second place in their category, which means each will receive a $500 or a $1,000 college bond, depending on their placing.

To enter the contest, the group decided to look for a way to aerate the water in Lake Champlain to inhibit blue-green algae growth. Berno said the project was his idea.

“When I saw the blue-green algae [in St. Albans Bay] I was like, ‘oh, we should do that,’” he said.

To devise a way to remove the algae, the group settled on aeration, which is a process that introduces air to water through agitation. Weinstein, announcing that she did a bunch of research on the subject, jumped in to explain how aeration works to remove algae from the water.

“If you move the water, it doesn’t allow the algae to get oxygen so it dies and sinks to the bottom,” she said.

To achieve aeration, the group first thought about making a giant machine that would aerate all of Lake Champlain – a method that has been explored by civil engineers. But when the kids realized the scope of such a project, they scaled down.

“We realized how big the lake was,” said Chloe. “It was way harder than we thought.”

“It’s a lake,” added Wheeler.

A cup of water with green dye and droplets of oil – simulating algae infested lake water – sits ready for use with an eCyberMission experiment to find a way to remove algae from Lake Champlain. (Neil Zawicki, MESSENGER STAFF)

Having moved to a two-foot square-by-four-inch deep tub in their classroom, the group got to work on designing an aeration machine. For this, they turned to a wind-up scuba diver, and a collection of bath toys.

“We had one scuba man and three animals!” shouted Wheeler.

“And two turtles!” shouted Weinstein.

“And I think there was a frog,” said Berno.

“There was not a frog,” answered Weinstein. “I can go and check if you want.”

The group did in fact agree that the wind-up hippopotamus worked the best.

“The hippo was really fast,” said Flemming.

At one point, Berno said they considered making a scaled up working model of the scuba diver, envisioning a larger-than-life version swimming the lake to create aeration, but keeping it small proved most attainable.

To replicate conditions on the lake during a particularly bad algae bloom, Weinstein said they tried oatmeal and cream of wheat to no avail, and ultimately landed on using oil after Voyager teacher Jessica Mitchell suggested it. Once they had their algae simulation, they got some green dye and went to work.

“We just dyed the water green and dumped the oil in,” said Weinstein.

Through the process, the group learned the project would be much more than just putting wind-up toys in green water.

“It was a pain,” said Berno, referring to the level of research they had to do. He cites his role as team analyst, in which he had to find 11 facts about blue-green algae and report on them.

Flemming filled the planning and presenter role, so she did the talking, while Wheeler served as the writer for the group. Weinstein filled the role of researcher and organizer.

While the group laughs and jokes about the project, and are excited to learn just what they’ve won, they explain how they were an unlikely team that had been “thrown together” by their teacher.

“We argued soooooo much!” said Weinstein.

“Not all of us work together all that well,” added Flemming.

Berno explained how being the only boy also presented a challenge.

“We did not get along at all,” said Wheeler with a laugh.

Forest Berno, 11 Alexia Wheeler, 12, Aryanna Flemming, 12, and Chloe Weinstein, 11, recap the experience they had creating an experiment for the eCyberMission competition. (Neil Zawicki, MESSENGER STAFF)

Stay informed. Subscribe to the Messenger.

Bagging the bags: City School kids collect plastic bags to help environment