Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Citizen Science is Everywhere, including the White House

    Millions of volunteers across our Nation actively contribute valuable time and expertise to help advance our understanding of the world around us.  Through citizen science, members of the public can participate in the scientific process, including identifying research questions, making new discoveries, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems.  Equipped with interactive web tools and readily-available tools like cell phone cameras and water-quality test kits, citizen scientists collect data and act on the results to accomplish fascinating and important work: from determining the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme to support development of new medications, to mapping the 3D structure of neurons in the brain. Through citizen science, the public also has discovered a new class of galaxy (the rare “green pea” galaxies), and helped to map the surface of Mars.

    This week, the White House hosted the 5th annual White House Science Fair. One of the student exhibitors demonstrated the impact citizen science can have on both learning and research outcomes. High school senior Tiye Garrett-Mills Tiye investigated more economically viable and efficient ways to create images of the vein systems in leaves. 

  • Empowering the Next Generation of Engineers to Address the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century

    At the 2015 White House Science Fair yesterday, President Obama hosted outstanding young scholars from across the country to celebrate their achievements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). One of the scholars he met was Michaela Rikard, a biomedical engineering student at North Carolina State University.

    Michaela is one of a growing number of undergraduates participating in Grand Challenge Scholars Programs at colleges and universities nationwide. These programs empower students to tackle some of the most important challenges of the 21st century, such as making solar energy cost-competitive with coal and providing clean water for the nearly 1 billion people who lack access. As a Grand Challenge Scfholar, Michaela wants to develop new medical therapies that are personalized, affordable, and readily available worldwide. She’s conducted research to improve the use of nanotechnology to detect and treat cancer, and has worked with the military to help soldiers with amputations that are suffering from complications.

    Thanks to a new initiative launched by over 120 Deans of Engineering at campuses nationwide, over the next decade at least 20,000 undergraduate students will have the opportunity to tackle Grand Challenges: ambitious but achievable goals that will require advances in science and technology to achieve. Students will combine interdisciplinary coursework, research, hands-on design projects, service learning, a semester abroad, and an entrepreneurial experience to ensure that they have the skills and the mindset needed to meet Grand Challenges.

  • The Incredible Kid-Ingenuity on Display at the Fifth White House Science Fair

    President Obama looks at two Arizona students' robot at the fifth annual White House Science Fair

    President Barack Obama talks with Sergio Corral and Isela Martinez while viewing science exhibits during the 2015 White House Science Fair celebrating student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions, in the State Dining Room, March 23, 2015. The two 17-year-old students are current leaders of the robotics program from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Ariz., which was chronicled in the recent documentary "Underwater Dreams" where their under-served high school beat out MIT and other colleges in an underwater robotics competition. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    Today, the halls of the White House were packed with science projects -- robots, 3D-printed objects, computer programs, apps, and extraordinary scientific discoveries -- all built, invented, designed, and brought to fruition by students.

    At the fifth-annual White House Science Fair, President Obama welcomed more than 100 students from more than 30 states for a celebration and showcase of their truly remarkable achievmenets in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

    As part of the Science Fair, approximately 35 student teams exhibited innovative projects -- including discoveries and insights in key areas such as disease diagnostics, clean energy, and information security -- as well as inventions ranging from the “why didn’t I think of that?” (automatic page-turner for people with arthritis) to the “who’d have ever thought that possible?” (a hiccup-curing lollipop!).

    The President personally viewed some of these projects, marveling at the incredible ingenuity on display from student innovators across the country including some as young as six years old.

  • Celebrating Sunshine Week 2015

    We conclude the 10th Sunshine Week celebrations with an update on the Open Government Initiative started six years ago by President Obama. As part of the Initiative, U.S. agencies are increasingly adopting a “default to open” approach, making more information, data, and records available online than ever before. This week, the Federal government also launched the first government-wide public analytics web dashboard, which is hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA) at

  • Back-of-the-Napkin Math, with DJ Patil: #PiDay Challenge


    On March 16, 2015, U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil scribbled out a "back-of-the-napkin" solution to a math problem he challenged the public to solve in honor of Pi Day 2015.

    I hope you had an epic pi(e) day. For me, it was an opportunity to indulge in all the various forms of pi and pie (including a deconstructed apple pie). I wanted to follow up and share the answer to our pi day math brain teaser. Just a reminder, here’s the problem again:

    “Imagine you have a rope snug all the way around the equator. Now you need to add some rope so that the rope is 2 inches above the ground all the way around.  How much rope do you need to add?”

    The really cool thing about this problem is that it goes counter to our intuition. We think of the Earth’s equator as huge and therefore the amount of rope needed to be added must be large. But let’s do the math.

    The equator of the Earth is a circle and the circumference is 2 x pi x r (or 2πr).

    The radius with the height 2 inches off the ground would be r+2 inches, and the circumference would then be 2 x pi x (r+2)  (or 2π(r+2)). 

    Let’s subtract these to get how much rope we would need and we get 2 x pi x r - 2 x pi x (r+2). 

    Doing some quick math, you get 2 x pi x (r+2) - 2 x pi x r = 2 x pi x r – 2 x 2 x pi - 2 x pi x r = 4 x pi.  There you have it. 

    All you would have to add is 4 x pi inches or approximately 12.56 inches of rope! Crazy, but true. 

    That’s why you need math!

    DJ Patil is U.S. Chief Data Scientist

  • Continuing Engagement to Ensure the Nation’s Biosafety

    Life-sciences researchers and public health workers play key roles in mitigating the threat of infectious diseases in the United States and around the world. Working with pathogens in the laboratory is vital to ensuring that the United States and the global community have the right cutting-edge tools—such as drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines—to counter the ever evolving threat of infectious disease and ensure biomedical progress. It is also the responsibility of the Government to ensure that this research is conducted safely and securely.

    That’s why the Federal Select Agent Regulations were enacted in 2002 to oversee the possession, transfer, and use of bacteria, viruses, fungi, or toxins that have the potential to threaten public and agricultural health. In order to better adapt policies to the current landscape, the National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) sent a joint memo in August 2014 to federal departments and agencies involved in life-sciences research, urging them to take immediate and longer-term steps to address the underlying causes of recent laboratory incidents and strengthen overall biosafety and biosecurity in the United States.

    Among a number of robust steps, the memo directed the formation of an interagency group to comprehensively review the impact that the current select agent regulations have on science, technology, and national security. To ensure that this review benefits from diverse perspectives and the broadest possible input, OSTP is holding a series of stakeholder listening sessions, the first of which was held on February 17, 2015, to ensure that members of the scientific, regulatory, and security communities, as well as interested citizens, have an opportunity to provide direct feedback on this important issue.

    In addition, today OSTP issued a Request for Information to solicit feedback from the broader public and expert community.

    Anyone can submit comments through this request for information and we welcome your input. The Request for Information, along with instructions on how to submit input, can be found in the Federal Register here. The comment period will close at 5pm ET on March 30, 2015.

    May Chu is Assistant Director for Public Health at OSTP, Dylan George is Senior Policy Advisor for Biological Threat Defense at OSTP, and Kushal Seetharam is a Student Volunteer at OSTP.