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Environment

Obama Hosts Science Fair

Finalists: Student projects show value of investing in science education

by Britt E. Erickson
February 13, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 7

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Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
Using a student-designed device, President Obama shoots a marshmallow across the White House State Dining Room.
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Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
Using a student-designed device, President Obama shoots a marshmallow across the White House State Dining Room.

The White House held its second-ever science fair on Feb. 7, honoring more than 100 students from 45 states. President Barack Obama used the event to promote steps the Administration and the private sector are taking to boost investments in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

Students invited to the event were finalists from various STEM competitions. More than 30 teams exhibited projects, including a way to collect solar energy and a nanotechnology-based drug-delivery system to target cancer cells. The number of exhibits was almost twice that during the first White House science fair, in late 2010 (C&EN, Oct. 25, 2010, page 8).

“When you work and study and excel at what you’re doing in math and science, when you compete in something like this, you’re not just trying to win a prize today. You’re getting America in shape to win the future,” Obama told students at the event. “You’re making sure we have the best, smartest, most skilled workers in the world, so that the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root right here.”

The President reiterated a call that he made when he took office “for an all-hands-on-deck approach” to STEM education. He announced that his fiscal 2013 budget request, set to release on Feb. 13, will include $100 million for the National Science Foundation to improve undergraduate STEM education practices.

The proposed budget will also include $80 million for a Department of Education program “to help prepare new math and science teachers,” Obama said. The initiative is expected to help the U.S. meet an ambitious goal of preparing 100,000 teachers to train 1 million additional STEM graduates over the next decade.

Obama also called attention to $22 million in new funds from a group of businesses and foundations, led by the Carnegie Corp. of New York, to help meet the STEM training goal. “Our need for STEM capacity in every part of our economy far outpaces our ability to train and keep great STEM talent,” Talia Milgrom-Elcott, program officer at Carnegie, said in a statement. “With the $22 million, funders are signaling to the country that solving this problem is a priority and that we can’t use conventional means to do it.”

In another private-sector effort, a coalition of more than 100 corporate CEOs is “expanding innovative science and math programs to 130 sites across the country,” Obama announced. “And other companies are partnering to make sure we celebrate young scientists and inventors and engineers, not just at the White House, but in every city and every town all across America.”

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