When Abbie Cochell, Katherine Holway and Haley Ritchie discovered that drowning is the second-leading cause of death for U.S. children last fall, they knew they’d found a problem they wanted to help fix.
The girls, then in eighth grade at Providence Day School, invented a device to help save children who fall into water and ended up winning the national title for their grade level in the eCYBERMISSION program.
ECYBERMISSION is a Web-based science, technology, engineering and math program of the U.S. Army and National Science Teachers Association. It challenges students to create solutions to real-world problems. Students in grades 6-9 can participate.
The girls competed against three other teams from across the country and won top honors Friday in Washington, D.C.
They developed a black box, about 3 inches by 4 inches, that can clip onto clothes, said Haley. If a child is wearing the box and falls into a backyard pool, a transmitter in the box sets off a receiver that parents can hear inside their house.
“It sets off an alarm, kind of like a smoke detector alarm,” she said. “Water completes the circuit – it’s the conductor in our case.”
The trio began working on the invention in November and went through three prototypes before getting it right. Abbie said they didn’t even have the fourth prototype working the way they wanted until the beginning of June.
They tested the invention, which they call Charger Breath Saver (also their team name), on a baby doll, Haley said.
As they prepared for the national competition (they won the state and regional titles), they contacted a woman from Florida whose 2-year-old accidentally drowned to hear her story.
“It just made us realize our device could have saved her – it just confirmed our drive to make a difference,” Haley said.
Abbie and Haley had been to the national competition once before, in sixth grade, but didn’t win. Abbie said coming home with the trophy was satisfying and validating.
“Winning was probably one of the most exciting things,” she said. “It just shows you how hard you’ve worked and how everything has paid off.”
She and Haley said they’re working on a patent for it now. Katherine was unreachable while on vacation.
“Over the next year, I think we want to make our device better, smaller and have a patent, and hopefully, we can mass-produce it,” Abbie said.
Their adviser, Barbara Morrow, a science teacher at Providence Day, said she was very proud of the team.
“It’s not just that they’re hardworking – I kind of get choked up here – but they are great members of the community; saying they represent Providence Day is kind of an understatement,” she said. “They’re everything you look for in global citizens.”
Morrow said all three are involved in Science Olympiad, Science Quiz Bowl and several sports in addition to eCYBERMISSION.
“They’re crazy busy all of the time, so for them to do this well speaks profoundly for their dedication and hard work,” she said.
Abbie said the group is applying for a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to work on a project throughout the year andpresent it at a festival there next June.
And what will they invent this time?
“We’re not sure yet,” she said, “but I think we want to do something that has a global impact.”
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