Young scientists impress Obama at White House
The small Lego machine inside the White House whirred. And in a moment it was turning the pages of a story book. One page flipped. Then another, ever faster as President Barack Obama marveled at its efficiency.
The contraption's eventual aim would allow paralyzed or arthritic patients to read books despite their disabilities.
"How did you figure this out?" Obama, impressed, asked its inventors.
"We had a brainstorming session," one of the five 6-year-old Girl Scouts replied.
The kindergartners and first graders from Tulsa, Oklahoma, were among 35 young science fair winners. They had come to the White House. They showcased breakthroughs ranging from spinal implants to carbon-dioxide powered batteries. There even was a keystroke identity system. It can back up computer password securities.
Obama used the science fair event to highlight private-sector efforts to encourage more students from underrepresented groups to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and math. He announced more than $240 million in pledges to boost the study of those fields, known as STEM. This year's fair is focused on diversity.
While awed by all of the displays, none seemed to delight Obama more than the Lego page-turner.
Obama allowed as to how the device might need a little adjustment. At its current speed, a reader might only catch three sentences in a page.
"It's a prototype," one of the Girl Scout designers replied matter-of-factly.
"Have you ever had a brainstorming session yourself?" one little girl asked.
Indeed, yes, the president replied.
"What did you come up with?"
"I mean, I came up with things like, you know, health care," he said, amused. "It turned out ok. But it started off with some prototypes."
The pledges the president announced include a $150 million philanthropic effort. Its goal is to encourage promising early-career scientists to stay on track. There's also a $90 million campaign to expand STEM opportunities to underrepresented youth, such as minorities and girls. Altogether, the new STEM commitments have brought total financial and material support for these programs to $1 billion.
"It's not enough for our country just to be proud of you. We've got to support you," Obama said later. He spoke to students and scientists in the White House East Room.
More than 100 colleges and universities have committed to training 20,000 engineers. And a coalition of CEOs have promised to expand high-quality STEM education programs to an additional 1.5 million students this year.
Obama launched "Educate to Innovate," his effort to encourage the study of science, technology, engineering and math in 2009.
Obama said the fair is one of the most fun events held annually at the White House.
"Every year I walk out smarter than when I walked in," Obama said.
Critical thinking challenge: Why might this science fair do more to promote STEM than other science fairs?
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