The White House hosted its annual science fair Tuesday with a special focus on girls and women who have excelled in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields. Over a hundred students from across the country showed off their inventions or groundbreaking research, including two girls from Natick High School.

Katelyn Sweeney and Olivia Van Amsterdam schlepped a 120-pound robot to Washington to showcase an invention they say was inspired by the Natick Fire Department. Sweeney says they knew this was something they wanted to make when firefighters told them about the dangers of search-and-rescue missions into icy waters.

"What we built is a two-part machine that’s able to traverse ice and deploy a small, submersible robot into the water to carry out the preliminary search pattern," Sweeney said.

The two girls designed the robot through the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams program. The remotely operated vehicle can go 40 feet deep and withstand temperatures as low as 33 degrees. But this wasn’t the only thing that impressed President Barack Obama at the science fair.

"When they’re not busy building life-saving robots they’re also establishing an all-girls robotics team," Obama said. "And we are very, very proud of them, so let’s give them a round of applause."

Women only make up about a quarter of the STEM workforce and Sweeney says there needs to be a greater effort to close that gender gap.

"Closing the gender gap should be high on any engineer’s priority list, because it’s a problem that limits the flow of ideas in science and engineering, and I think that overcoming that should be a top priority for anybody who plans to go into STEM," she said.

That view is reflected in Obama’s "Educate to Innovate" initiative. The White House announced a $35 million Department of Education competition that will further its goal to train 100,000 new STEM teachers, provide STEM learning opportunities for low-income students this summer and a national STEM mentoring effort across seven cities.

This story was updated to mention that the students are involved in the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Program.