Young researchers take over the White House

The fourth annual White House Science Fair featured several faces familiar to readers of this blog and Science News for Students

Students, teachers and parents wait for President Barak Obama to address the White House Science Fair.

B. Brookshire/SSP

WASHINGTON, D.C. –President Obama meets a lot of people. From important politicians and visiting royalty to athletes and rock stars. But this week, he met with and honored a very special group. At the fourth annual White House Science Fair, kids from around the country spoke with the President about their research and inventions.

“Last week, we had the Superbowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks, here,” the President noted. “They came by the White House and that was cool…But I believe that what’s being done by these amazing young people I’ve had a chance to meet is even more important.”

This year’s group of young scientists and engineers included students who previously participated in competitions, including the Intel Science Talent Search, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and the Broadcom MASTERS. All three Society for Science & the Public programs (sponsored by Intel and Broadcom), bring together high-school or middle-school students to showcase their research. (SSP also publishes Science News for Students and this blog).

President Barak Obama addresses a student, teachers and a parent. B. Brookshire/SSP
Zarin Rahman, 17, was a finalist at this year’s Intel STS and Intel ISEF competitions. Her work focused on how screentime affects sleep in teens. A senior at Brookings High School in Brookings, S.D., she used her White House visit to work on encouraging women in science, technology, engineering and math. “I got to speak with important women scientists and policymakers in the government,” she says. “It was great to share ideas with them!” She also got to meet and take photos with science celebrity Bill Nye, “the Science Guy .”

Eric Chen, 17, winner of this year’s Intel STS, told the President about his project. He developed a computer program to search for new drugs to fight flu. A senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, Calif., he was thrilled to meet the President again.  And he notes that the President asked “some really good questions.”

Anne Merrill, 17, also was an Intel STS finalist this year. Her project showed that earthworms can mix charcoal into soil. Once in the soil, she found that the charcoal can help protect plants from disease. This week, the senior at Greenwich High School in Connecticut set up a display of her earthworm findings in the White House Rose Garden. How appropriate! She says that the best part of the White House Science Fair was talking with other students about their projects. “It’s really inspirational.” Some of the honorees are still in elementary and middle school. “When I was 12, I don’t know what I was doing  — but it wasn’t robotics!” she laughs.

Other White House Science Fair participants from current and previous Society for Science & the Public competitions included Laura Herman, 18, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Connor Klemenhagen, 18, of Dayton, Minn.; Henry Lin, 18, of Shreveport, La.; Elana Simon, 18, of New York, N.Y.; and Brenna Wallin, 13, of Lexington, Ky.

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Power Words

influenza (or flu)  A highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory passages causing fever and severe aching. It often occurs as an epidemic.

screentime  The amount of time that people spend looking at electronic screens, including computer screens, cell phones and televisions.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.