Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama hosted the first White House Science Fair on Monday, saying it is time for student inventors to receive the same recognition as sports heroes.
After seeing some of the winning exhibits from science and engineering competitions across the country, Obama told an East Room audience that the inventions on display and the students who made them are inspiring and demonstrate "the promise of America."
"I could not be prouder of you," Obama said. "I expect some of you to be back here as Nobel Prize winners."
The exhibits included a physical therapy chair for disabled children, a solar powered five-gear car, a hydro-power water purification system and a "smart" steering wheel that sounds an alarm when a driver takes one or both hands off.
Obama tried the smart steering wheel, noting that it would know when someone was texting while driving.
"So Malia and Sasha, once they start driving, I can have this thing on there," Obama joked about the presidential daughters.
Antonio Hernandez and Diego Vazquez of Cesar Chavez High School in the Phoenix, Arizona, area told Obama how their team worked with physical therapists to develop a chair that disabled students can use to receive physical therapy while at school.
The chair moves manually, heats and vibrates, and was built from scratch over six months with aluminum donated by companies, they explained. To raise money, mothers of the students sold tamales, they said.
"They didn't have money, but they did have a desire to work together, to help a friend and build something that had never been done before," Obama said. "That's not just the power of science. That's the promise of America."
The science fair was part of Obama's push to improve the performance of U.S. students in math and science as part of reforms intended to reclaim the nation's standing as a world leader in education.
He noted that sports champions always get invited to the White House, and said, to applause, "I thought we ought to do the same thing for the winners of science fairs and robotic contests and math competitions, because often, we don't give these victories the attention that they deserve."
During the event, Obama announced he had taped a walk-on role for Discovery Channel's "MythBusters" program, but noted that he "didn't get to blow anything up," and added: "I was little frustrated with that."
A news release from Discovery Channel said the program, to be broadcast in December, will challenge the ancient myth that Greek scientist Archimedes set fire to an invading Roman fleet using sunlight reflected by mirrors.