The White House opened its doors to the next generation of scientists and technological innovators on Tuesday when the Obama administration hosted its sixth annual science fair.
President Barack Obama started hosting the White House science fair in 2010. That year about 40 students participated. This year’s event was the largest yet, hosting more than 130 students from more than 30 states. Many of the projects showcased skills the administration has encouraged in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and computer science.
Over the years, the White House has made an effort to reach young girls and minority students. Obama famously posed with some smart young Girl Scouts at last year’s science fair.
“Women and minorities have been left out of science to a large degree,” said Dr. Jo Handelsman of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Still, engineering is very male dominated and many of the physical sciences are.”
Of course, saying goodbye is never easy. During remarks to the students, the President took time to reflect on his favorite moments.
“Some of the best moments that I’ve had as president have involved science and our annual science fair. I mean, I have shot a marshmallow out of a cannon directly under Lincoln’s portrait,” Obama said. “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. I’ve also, by the way, had a chance to see an alarming number of robots.”
But robots weren’t the only showstoppers at this year’s event. In the six years since the science fair started, technological innovations have done a lot to change what the projects look like.
“It’s really amazing to watch the change. Even in the last couple of years, we’re starting to see a lot more apps. There are students here who had built apps for phones that I don’t think we would have seen six years ago,” Handelsman said.
This year alone, students developed apps to help LGBT youth, cancer patients and people struggling with dyslexia.
“They’re concerned about the environment. They’re concerned about people. They’re concerned about equity. Health – they’re concerned that medical tests are too expensive for people who need them. Those are very sophisticated and empathic feelings for kids that young,” Handelsman said.
The President wasn’t the only one who stopped by to admire the students’ work. Science guy Bill Nye and Adam Savage of the television show “Mythbusters” also made their way to the White House.
This year the White House welcomed back former science fair participants. The guests included Elana Simon, a 2014 White House science fair participant whose project explored the cause of the rare form of cancer she had been diagnosed with at the age of 12. Simon is now a student at Harvard and, more importantly, a cancer survivor.
Whether or not the next administration continues the science fair, many of its small participants have already established big legacies of their own. Check out the video above for more on the science fair – and prepare to be blinded by science.