Students Explain Science to President

BY Jenny Marder  October 18, 2010 at 4:10 PM EST

They’re too young to vote, but they’re already designing cancer-fighting therapies, solar-powered cars and robots to combat distracted driving. One team of students cooked and sold tamales to raise enough money to build a better wheelchair for a classmate with disabilities. Another designed a water-efficient toilet out of bubble wrap, plexiglass and PVC piping.

President Obama honored these and other students at the first-ever White House Science Fair on Monday, kicking off a week of events focused on science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) education. The award-winning projects were plucked from a series of nationwide competitions. They are part of an effort to show that the White House is taking science seriously.

In the State Dining Room, students explained the science of rocketry, photodynamic therapy and hydroelectric power to the president, using poster board diagrams and model simulations. At one point, he proposed testing a soccer ball-kicking robot by directing it toward the press pool.

“Let’s just point it this way and see what happens,” he joked.

Obama followed the exhibit with a speech in the East Room to an audience that included Energy Secretary Steven Chu and National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh. In science and math, “we’ve been outpaced by our competitors,” he said, adding that his goal is to move America from the middle to the top in science education.

The U.S. lags behind other nations in K-12 STEM education: International comparisons consistently place U.S. students at the middle of the pack or lower on science and math profiency, according to a report released in September by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The report calls for training 100,000 new science and math teachers and creating 1,000 new science-focused schools.

“When you win first place at a science fair, nobody’s rushing the field or pouring Gatorade on your head, but in many ways, our future depends on what happens in these contests,” the president said.

Obama also announced that he will appear on an episode of the Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters on December 8. Science Week will culminate with the USA Science and Engineering Expo in downtown Washington, D.C. on October 23 and 24.

Video Editing by Crispin Lopez