To those who say American kids can’t compete in the new science and technology world order, I say you should have been at the third annual White House Science Fair this week. One hundred students from 40 states, ranging in age from 8 to 19, presented their genius inventions to President Barack Obama and frankly, renewed our faith in the U.S. education system and future as a country.
The entries were nothing short of astounding, from converting algae into an economically viable biofuel to a computer program that improves cancer detection to a bicycle-powered filtration system for water safety emergencies.
The president toured all the exhibits, tested out quite a few, and announced some new steps in his Educate to Innovate campaign, an effort to get more boys and girls interested in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). One of the goals: to train 100,000 new math and science teachers over the next decade.
The commander-in-chief invited an all-star cast that included Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” LeVar Burton of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow, NASA’s “Mohawk Guy” Bobak Ferdowsi, and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, to help extend kudos to the kids who are making it happen now.
“We celebrate our great football players, and we celebrate outstanding musicians, and that's all appropriate,” Obama told the participants. “But we’ve got to make sure that we’re also celebrating every single day in our schools, in our classrooms, and in our country, the outstanding contributions that scientists and engineers and mathematicians and engineers are providing to us every single day. And we want you to know that you’ve got a whole country behind you as you pursue your dreams. And your success is going to be our success, as well. So way to go.”
Here are a few of the genius kids we talked to:
Brothers Evan and Alec Jackson, 8 and 10, and Caleb Robinson, 8, from McDonough, Georgia, love playing football, but not all the sweating that goes with it. They invented Cool Pads for the shoulders, helmet, armpits, and groin that feature temperature sensors and a cooling system to help players maintain safe body temperatures on the field.
Sylvia Todd, 11, from Auburn, California, caught the invention bug at age 7 with her first visit to a Maker Faire. “It was so inspiring for me so I got my dad to teach me to solder,” she explains. Father and daughter started a web series now known as “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show” that’s attracted 1.5 million views on YouTube. At the White House Sylvia debuted a robot that paints and President Obama tested it out by writing GO STEM on an iPad, which the robot then painted in watercolors. We’re betting it’s already framed and hanging on Sylvia’s bedroom wall.
Jessika Baral, 13, of Freemont, California, concocted a device for a modern day problem: eye fatigue. “Everyone in my family has eye problems—we all love to look at screens and play with smart phones,” she explained. Her hat like device has a wide brim with tiny lights that blink one by one in a circle; when the eyes follow the lights around the brim, the muscles are exercised and strengthened.
Easton LaChappelle, 17, of Durango, Colorado, had his “aha moment” when he met a little girl at a festival last summer with a prosthetic arm that cost $80,000. “She would need two or three of those as she grows,” he told me, “and I thought there has to be a cheaper way to build one. I live in a small town and am bored a lot so I decided to try.” The end result: a fully operational arm that can be built for $250.
Way to go indeed. Check out some of the science fair's highlights in the following video: