the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

Search form

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the President at the White House Science Fair

East Room

12:13 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House Science Fair!  (Applause.)  I love this event.  (Laughter.)  This is one of my favorite things all year long. 

Before I begin, I want to recognize some people who are here today who really worked hard not only to make our Science Fair happen, but are working hard to connect young people to science every single day.  We’ve got our Secretary of Education -- Arne Duncan is here.  (Applause.)  We have our head of NASA and former astronaut -- Charlie Bolden, is here.  There he is.  (Applause.)  We have our Director of the National Institutes of Health -- Francis Collins, is here.  (Applause.)  My chief Science Advisor -- John Holdren is here.  (Applause.) 

We’ve got Bill Nye, the Science Guy.  You can see his bow-tie.  He’s right here.  (Applause.)  Bill Nye, the Science Guy.  You guys like him, huh?  (Laughter.)  You see, you got a big “whoop.”  (Laughter.)  And we’ve got a woman who gets to build and blow stuff up for a living at MythBusters -- Kari Byron is here.  Where’s Kari?  There she is right there.  (Applause.)

And we want to recognize the people whose love and support helped these amazing young people get here:  the parents, mentors, and tireless teachers.  Let’s give them all a big round of applause.  Yay!  (Applause.)

Now, I have a confession to make.  When I was growing up, my science fair projects were not as successful as the ones here.  (Laughter.)  One year, I accidently killed some plants that were a part of my experiment.  (Laughter.)  Another time, a bunch of mice escaped in my grandmother’s apartment.  (Laughter.)  These experiments did not take me straight to the White House.  (Laughter.)    

And, instead, I have a chance now to see what real young scientists can do.  And they were just amazing.  And, by the way, there were no rodents loose in the White House.  (Laughter.)  I couldn’t even imagine doing some of the work that the young people I had a chance to meet were doing when I was their age, and your generation of young people is learning more than people in some ages ever did.  And our job is to make sure that you’ve got everything you need to continue on this path of discovery and experimentation and innovation that has been the hallmark not only of human progress, but also the hallmark of American progress.  And that’s why we decided to organize these science fairs. 

Last week, we had the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks here.  They came by the White House.  And that was cool -- and there’s a tradition that when the NBA champions or the NFL champions or college football champions -- if they win a championship, they get a chance to come and get highlighted in the White House and take a picture with the President. 

But I believe that what’s being done by these amazing young people who I had a chance to meet is even more important.  And I’m a big sports fan -- everybody knows that.  But what’s happening here is more important.  As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners. 

Because superstar biologists and engineers and rocket scientists and robot-builders, they don’t always get the attention that they deserve, but they’re what’s going to transform our society.  They’re the folks who are going to come up with cures for diseases and new sources of energy, and help us build healthier, more successful societies.  And I want to make sure that every young people across America knows what their peers are doing to inspire even more work in science. 

That’s what this White House Science Fair is all about.  And this year, we’re putting special emphasis and special focus on all the amazing girls and young women who are excelling at science and technology and engineering and math.  And I met some amazing young ladies here today.  (Applause.)  

So a lot of the young people who I met, they started off trying to solve a problem that they saw in their neighborhoods or their school.  But the solutions they’re coming up with have the potential to solve problems all around the world. 

So we have the all-girls app team from Resaca Middle School in Los Fresnos, Texas.  Where are they?  I just saw them.  There they are.  There they are.  (Applause.)  So one of their classmates -- an outstanding young man, Andres Salas -- is visually impaired.  So they designed an app to help him navigate their school and other buildings. 

The app tells Andres where he is, where he may need to go, can give him directions -- which saves Andres a huge amount of time because, they were explaining -- Andres was explaining how if he goes from middle school to high school, he’s got to essentially memorize and track his surroundings and this app is helping him do that.  And so not only do these young ladies have big brains, but they’ve also got big hearts. 

When Maria Hanes thought about entering the science fair her senior year in high school, she wanted to work on a project on something she loves.  She loves football more than anything else.  She’s from Oklahoma, so as you might imagine the Sooners are big in her mind.  And she also recognized, though, that a lot of players are suffering from the concussions that come from collisions -- and she also happened to manage her high school football team.

She dropped her cell phone one day -- like most teenagers, she loves her cell phone more than anything -- (laughter) -- including probably her parents at this stage -- (laughter) -- although I know that she’ll grow out of that.  She noticed her rubber case protected her phone.  She wondered what kinds of stuff are covering football helmets.  And that’s how her “Concussion Cushion” was born.  And that’s the kind of idea that we’re going to be talking about this Thursday, when we actually have parents, kids, and pro athletes come to the White House for a Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit. 

Peyton Robertson is here -- first of all, where is -- I want to make sure I acknowledge Maria.  Where is Maria?  There she is.  Stand up, Maria, so everybody can see you.  (Applause.) 

Now, we’ve got Peyton Robertson, who’s here from Pine Crest School of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I would just advise people -- I can’t do this because I’ve got a conflict of interest -- if you can buy stock in Peyton, you should do so now.  (Laughter.)  He actually had two projects here, both patented or patents pending. 

You say you’re 12?

PEYTON:  I am.

THE PRESIDENT:  “I am” -- yes.  (Laughter.)  This guy is something.  (Laughter.)  When Hurricane Wilma hit nearly nine years ago, Peyton took cover in the closet and played Monopoly with his mom, and later said, “It’s a lot easier to win when your parents are distracted by a Category 3 storm.”  (Laughter.)  That is a good point.  You were just buying Boardwalk and -- (laughter) -- they didn’t care, whatever.  (Laughter.)

After the storm, Peyton started thinking about the ways people prepare for floods.  And he noticed that sandbags are heavy and sometimes they leak.  So Peyton designed new, reusable sandbags, using polymers, that, when wet, expand to prevent saltwater from seeping in, and when they dry out, they weigh just four pounds.  Now, this is just one of his projects.  He had another project about retractable training wheels so dad doesn’t have to get out the screwdriver.  (Laughter.)  But it just gives you a sense of the kind of inquisitiveness and ingenuity that a young man like Peyton has.  So give Peyton a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  Way to go, Peyton.  

And then there is Olivia Van Amsterdam and Katelyn Sweeney, representing their team from Natick High School in Massachusetts.  Where are they?  Where did they go?  There they are.  Stand up.  (Applause.)  They learned that diving for a missing person can be dangerous and a time-consuming process, particularly up in Massachusetts where it gets cold and there’s often ice over the water.  So they worked to develop a robot that could help firefighters and ice rescue teams search for objects and bodies in perilous waters.

So they built the robot.  But here’s the other reason that I admire the two of them:  When they’re not busy building lifesaving robots, they are also establishing an all-girls robotics team.  And one is about to graduate.  The other is a junior.  They’re already helping other young women get involved in science and technology, engineering and math.  And we are very, very proud of them.  So give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.) 

Every one of the young people that I met here were amazing.  And it reminds us that there’s so much talent to be tapped if we're working together and lifting it up.  Right now, fewer than one in five bachelor’s degrees in engineering or computer science are earned by women.  Fewer than three in 10 workers in science and engineering are women.  That means we've got half the field -- or half our team we're not even putting on the field.  We've got to change those numbers.  These are the fields of the future.  This is where the good jobs are going to be.  And I want America to be home for those jobs. 

And that’s why, three years ago, I called for a national effort to train 100,000 excellent STEM teachers over the next decade.  We are now making progress on that front.  Today, I’m announcing a new $35 million competition to train some of our best math and science graduates to become teachers, and fill more of our classrooms with the hands-on science that we see here today, even when their school districts can’t afford a lot of fancy equipment.  We’re also going to expand STEM AmeriCorps to provide learning opportunities for 18,000 low-income students this summer.  (Applause.) 

And companies, non-profits, cities -- they’re doing their part.  Today, dozens of them are stepping up with new commitments to inspire and help more students learn.  So seven cities are partnering with more than 200 businesses and non-profits to connect girls and low-income students with mentors in science and technology.  Esri is giving every school in America the chance to use its scientific software for free.  And we're grateful for that.  Khan Academy is partnering with NASA to make lessons about the math and science going on relative to the Mars Project open and accessible to millions of learners worldwide.  And a lot of private sector leaders are involved in these efforts and have come here today -- probably to recruit -- (laughter) -- folks like Peyton, giving him a card and saying, here, in six years come call me.  (Laughter.) 

So we’re blessed to live in a country filled with bright, eager young people who love science, love tinkering, love making things, who have the ability to see old problems and grand challenges with fresh eyes.  And those of us who are grownups have an obligation to help them reach their full potential, just as others helped us. 

It was Franklin Roosevelt who said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”  And as President, that’s what inspires me.  That’s what gets me up every day.  And that’s why I'm going to keep on -- for every day that I'm in this office, that I have the privilege of being President, I'm going to make sure that my focus is on how we're building up the youth of tomorrow so that they can succeed and, as a consequence, America can succeed.

To all the young people that I met -- I mean, I'm just looking at them.  I want to kind of actually talk about all of them.  You’ve got the young lady here who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12, and figured out, with the help of the surgeon, a better understanding of how to isolate the genetic mutations that impact her cancer.  She’s going to be going to Harvard, as you might imagine.  (Laughter.)

You got this guy right here who is designing a new computer system that might allow us to develop flu vaccines faster and more efficiently.  He’s going to Harvard.  (Laughter.)

You got this guy who won like a coding competition for STEM education and he just started high school.  So, I don't know, he'll go to MIT or someplace.  (Laughter.)

And then we've got the Girl Scout troop here from Oklahoma who -- stand up, girls.  (Applause.)  These guys did their own coding to design a Lego system that shows how, if water is rising too fast on a bridge, potentially the bridge would go up right away and save lives and save the bridge.  And they’re in second grade.  (Laughter.)  So I was just learning how to put up a tent.  (Laughter.)  They’re designing bridge stuff to save people.  So we're very proud of them.  Give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

Now that I'm at it I'm not going to leave anybody out.  Who else did I miss?  We've got this crew that had a simulated catapult that did outstanding work.  These two folks in the blue shirts are designing a sensor system to save pedestrians, and they are actually doing it jointly with kids in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, because they want to spread their knowledge, not just restricted to here in the United States.

We've got our team from Chicago doing some outstanding robotic work.  (Applause.)  We've got a young lady from -- was it San Antonio? -- San Antonio, Texas, who’s doing the great work with electronic vehicles, and she actually sat in it.

And I think those are all the folks -- did I miss anybody who I saw, who I had a chance to see?  Because I know that we've got other contestants, including the folks back here. 

Anyway, I wanted to let you know how proud and impressed I was with all of you.  Not only are you great scientists and engineers and tinkerers, but you also gave outstanding presentations to the President of the United States.  And so not only are your parents very proud of you, and your teachers and your mentors, I'm very proud of you as well.   

Thank you, everybody.  This was a great day.  (Applause.)  Good luck.  Great event.  (Applause.)

12:30 P.M. EDT