For the past three years, President Obama has tried to make a statement by inviting more than 100 students to the White House for its now-annual science fair: Kids who excel in science are at least as important as teams that win major sports championships.
There was no "marshmallow launcher" this year, but Obama once again said that improving science, technology, engineering and math education will be one of his key priorities in the second term of his presidency. Students who devised new ways of detecting pancreatic cancer, won rocket launch competitions and developed self-cooling football pads were among those honored.
"Let me just start by saying, in my official capacity as President: This stuff is really cool," Obama said. "We need to make [STEM education] a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve."
Obama has previously said he hopes to train 100,000 new science and math teachers over the next decade.
To help sell his message, Obama invited an all-star cast from the science community, including Bill Nye, NASA administrator Charles Bolden, NASA engineer and "mohawk guy" Bobak Ferdowsi and Star Trek's (and Reading Rainbow's) LeVar Burton.
"The president, as they say, gets it," Bill Nye told U.S. News. "He looks at the fortune 500 companies and sees these are all engineers and scientists running them. When it comes to inventing and innovation and driving the economy forward, you need science and science education."
Obama individually called out students such as Jon Kubricki and Bridget Zarych, eighth graders who designed a way to convert garbage into burnable briquettes of fuel and Caleb Meyer, who designed a wind turbine small enough that it can be used to help power an individual house.
Ferdowsi, a systems engineer with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says the fair helps showcase students who have a knack for creativity and are able to solve problems from a different perspective than established scientists.
"I'm just so impressed—at that age, I wasn't doing these kinds of things," he says. "They're not constrained by the traditional thought of 'this is how we do things.' When you work in industry, an airplane always looks the same—these guys don't have those thoughts and they can come up with things that are different from how we operated in the past."
(Photos by Jason Koebler/USN&WR)