LAND O'LAKES — At an age when many kids are learning the finer points of doing homework and playing games on high-tech computer tablets, a team of three sixth-graders from Pine View Middle School has created a prototype tablet that combines advanced technological principles with eco-friendly concepts.
Recently, the team and its prototype won first place nationwide in their grade category of the 23nd annual ExploraVision program, the world's largest K-12 science competition, sponsored by Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association.
Catie Tomasello, Emily Brothers and Rebecca Santos each won a $10,000 college savings bond, a Toshiba tablet, a laptop computer for their school and an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in June, where they will present the research behind their GREEN Tablet prototype to scientists, representatives from Toshiba and possibly members of Congress.
"We thought it would be a good idea to change the world," said Emily, 12.
"And with this tablet," said Catie, 12, "we could someday."
The GREEN Tablet — greentabproject.weebly.com — is a computer model that is 100 percent biodegradable and environmentally friendly, featuring silk/magnesium circuitry, a sugar-based battery and a graphene shell case that can easily be reused when the consumer desires an upgrade.
The ExploraVision winners designed their prototype tablet in keeping with the competition's mission, which "encourages students to consider an existing technology and how it might be improved 15 years in the future."
The girls, coached by their science teacher, Alyse Buckalew, sought to improve upon a computer product that they use every day.
"The world revolves around computer technology," said Rebecca, 12. "That technology can cause problems."
After extensive research, the girls discovered, according to their website, that "disposing of electronic devices generates 20 to 50 tons of electronic waste per year, making it the fastest-growing city-waste stream in the U.S."
"E-waste is also trashing up Third World countries," said Catie.
"And 20 years in the future," Emily added, "tablets are going to be bigger."
The GREEN Tablet is designed to feature transient electronic components, thus reducing e-waste and protecting the environment. The students designed their 3- by 9-inch prototype from rice paper, duct tape, boxes and other basic materials, all of which earned high marks from ExploraVision judges.
"I knew that the girls faced a substantial challenge by presenting a tablet model to Toshiba executives," said team mentor Heather Tomasello. "I knew they had to do their homework and research."
According to Buckalew, the students put a great deal of effort into their project.
"The girls truly did the work on this project," she said. "They are self-motivated and conscientious. Exactly the types of leaders we need. They came up with the GREEN Tablet idea, created an action plan and divided the work among themselves. Throughout the entire process, they shared their ideas and suggestions with each other, yet respected each other's space and trusted each would take care of their responsibilities. And all of this on top of school and family responsibilities."