Eleven-year-old Rebecca Yeung and her 9-year-old sister Kimberly didn’t mind that the White House Science Fair last Wednesday delayed the second liftoff of their Loki Lego Launcher into the stratosphere.
The girls, from Seattle, Wash., had planned to launch their small homemade “spacecraft” on a helium balloon during school spring break. Last September, the girls’ Yeungstuff Space Program launched its original craft, named after their cat and a Lego figurine, 23,918 meters high to record location coordinates, temperature, velocity, and pressure. The girls hope the 2.0 launch, now planned for the summer from Lake Chelan, Wash., will reach a height of 27,500 meters and videotape the curvature of the Earth.
With their launch rescheduled, the Yeungs participated in the sixth and final science fair put on by the Obama administration. The fair, which featured more than 130 students from more than 30 states, celebrates the students’ achievements while highlighting the importance of science and technology to energy production, climate change, public health, and the economy, according to an administration official.
After touring the science fair exhibits, President Barack Obama praised the students’ accomplishments. “I’ve just been able to see the unbelievable ingenuity and passion and curiosity and brain power of America’s next generation, and all the cool things that they do,” Obama said in a White House East Room ceremony, noting that some of his best moments as president took place during science fairs, including when he shot a marshmallow out of a cannon directly under a portrait of President Lincoln in 2012.
“There’s nothing that makes me more hopeful about the future than seeing young people like the ones who are here,” Obama said.
Adding a message about inclusion, Obama said that giving every student access to hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education requires “working through some of the structural biases that exist in science,” many of which are “unconscious.”
Student Projects Featured
Students at the science fair, many of whom have won other competitions, displayed projects ranging from an Ebola diagnostics test to robots for cleaning up New York City subway stations.
A project by Nathan Marshall, 17, of Boise, Idaho, examines prehistoric climate change and what it means for today. Marshall studied a marine sediment core during a science internship program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I’ve been interested in climatology and geology from a young age,” he told Eos, noting that his career goal is to apply science to policy.
Students Sydney Lin, 13; Krishna Patel, 12; and Isha Shah, 13, built a tabletop model for a sustainable, waste-free city 150 years into the future. The Las Vegas, Nev., residents used recyclable materials for almost everything in the model, according to Lin. She deemed exhibiting in the 13 April White House fair “a pretty big honor.”
A Generation of Promise
“It is just astonishing to see how deep thinkers these kids are,” DJ Patil, chief data scientist at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told Eos. “This might be the generation that is going to discover life on another planet.”
With the high-profile science fairs, “we are ensuring that a very large audience gets the message that science and engineering, technology, robotics, and computing are cool,” White House science adviser John Holdren told Eos. The event encourages “the next generation of discoverers, of inventors, of doers,” he added—those who will, for example, “help solve the climate challenge” and “do great geoscience.”
During his comments, Obama praised science fair participant Jacob Leggette of Baltimore, Md., for the 9-year-old’s suggestion of a new committee of kids to advise the administration about the science they like, which could help shape STEM education. Holdren told Eos that he and others in the administration are already working on it.
—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer
Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), White House Science Fair celebrates student achievements, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO050517. Published on 18 April 2016.