WYSK reader Kim sent us a news item that has us all excited because it centers on one of our favorite topics… young women involved in science and technology doing work that matters.

As NBC News reported, “An all-girl team of high school students has invented a comfy and cozy T-shirt equipped with a mechanism that automatically inflates it into a life preserver when it gets soaking wet.” The girls designed it for children ages 2 to 4 to wear while they are playing near a swimming pool.

The team of nine young female inventors all hail from the Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona (GLAAZ) and call their collaborative, potentially lifesaving brainchild the WataWescue. In essence, it’s a lightweight, comfortable shirt that comes equipped with an inflatable tube and alarm that both activate when the shirt is unexpectedly drenched with water, as in the case of a child accidentally falling into a pool.

The girls came up with the concept to offer a solution to a life threatening problem that was affecting their own community. “In the first six months of 2012, there were 46 drowning deaths in Arizona. Fifteen of the victims were children.”

On premise alone, we’re impressed by these inventive young Women You Should Know®. But, it was their ability to then execute the idea successfully that’s the real mind blower based on the technology and science involved.

Watawescue_T-shirtAccording to NBC News, here’s how their device works: a carbon-dioxide cartridge is sealed in a pouch on the back of the shirt, along with a bobbin that dissolves upon being immersed in water. “As it dissolves, the compressed gas passes through a vibrating mechanism to produce a loud sound as it inflates the tube. The alarm should alert nearby parents or guardians while the tube keeps the toddler afloat.”

There’s even a fail safe for unintended shirt inflation due to kids being kids. The shirt needs to be thoroughly soaked for the tube to inflate, so “running under a sprinkler or spilling milk on the shirt wouldn’t provide enough liquid to dissolve the bobbin, keeping accidentally puffy shirts to a minimum.”

As for cost, the WataWescue will be under $50 for the end user, which is a small price to pay to prevent a tragic poolside accident.

Way to go ladies!

GLAAZ & InvenTeams

Their invention earned the nine young women from GLAAZ a spot in the 2012-2013 InvenTeams Program, a Lemelson-MIT initiative and national grants program that aims to inspire a new generation of inventors by engaging high-school students in creative thinking, problem-solving and hands-on learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). They are one of only sixteen teams from across the nation selected to participate this year.

GLAAZ is also one of three all-girl schools participating this year, a calculated, but technical merit based, move by Lemelson-MIT to address the enormous gender gap in STEMA 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that nearly half of the U.S. workforce – women – continues to be a minority in STEM fields, holding less than 25 percent of jobs. The same report found that women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.

“The gender gap within STEM fields can be attributed, in part, to the need for more female role models in related careers,” said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, in an InvenTeams press release. “Hands-on learning programs that reach young women and men, like Lemelson-MIT’s InvenTeam initiative, ensure that we continue to grow our future pool of science and technology leaders and icons.

Along with the other 15 finalist teams, Team GLAAZ will receive an InvenTeam grant of up to $10,000 to continue to develop their WataWescue T-shirt from now through the end of the school year. They’ll also receive “advice from industry and academic mentors in their community.” All 16 teams will then showcase their projects at MIT’s 7th annual EurekaFest in June 2013.