Obama hosts young inventors at 2013 White House Science Fair

Barack Obama, pictured with "Extreme Marshmallow Cannon" creator Joey At the 2012 White House Science Fair, President Obama and Joey Hudy watch a Marshmallow Launcher work. (By AFP)
President Obama, pictured with “Extreme Marshmallow Cannon” creator Joey Hudy at the 2012 White House Science Fair.  (AFP)

Some 100 students from more than 40 states are attending the 2013 White House Science Fair, which began today with President Obama as host. The initiative (you can watch it by clicking on a link below) was designed to highlight the four STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. Approximately 30 student teams who had won STEM competitions were exhibiting projects, which included new inventions and important basic research, according to the White House. Among those at the fair were Planetary Society Executive Director and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” host Bill Nye, Mars Curiosity rover flight director Bobak “Mohawk Guy” Ferdowsi, and “Big Bang Theory” co-creator Bill Prady. Here are some of the student exhibits, according to a White House release:

  • Lending a hand for a fraction of the cost: After years of tinkering with robotic arms made of Legos and controlled by Nintendo gloves, Easton LaChapelle, 17 of Mancos, Colorado was inspired to take his efforts to the next level when he met a girl with an $80,000 prosthetic arm at a science and engineering festival. With that encounter, he decided that he could find a cheaper way to build a more functional limb at a fraction of the cost. Generating most of the parts through a 3D printer, Easton was able to assemble a fully operational arm at a price of only $250. He is now working on controlling the hand through a headset to further improve its utility for people with limited limb mobility.
  • Sports-loving grade-schoolers create new product concept to keep athletes cool: Evan Jackson (10), Alec Jackson (8), and Caleb Robinson (8)—all Flippen Elementary School students from McDonough, Georgia—noticed first-hand that dehydration and overheating are common problems on the football field. The students came up with an innovative product concept: COOL PADS for the shoulders, helmet, armpits, and groin that feature temperature sensors and a cooling system to help players maintain safe body temperatures on the field. Evan got his start with science using an at-home science kit and watching YouTube videos of simple experiments; Alec is a Junior Olympic Champion with a penchant for breaking things apart to see what’s inside; and Caleb is an avid reader interested in the mechanics of cars, airplanes, and ice–cream-making machines. The Team’s design is a Grade K – 3 Regional Winner of the 2012 Toshiba and National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision competition.
  • Using the cloud to combat cancer: A self-described teen who never grew out of the “why” phase, Brittany Wenger, a high school Senior from Sarasota, Florida, recently took home the Grand Prize at the Google Science Fair for developing a computer program that improves cancer detection. Inspired by her cousin’s battle with breast cancer, Brittany spent over 1,000 hours researching and creating the Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer, a service that combines multiple data from a single less invasive procedure to improve cancer detection. Originally conceived with the goal of helping hospitals to diagnose and treat more women earlier, the service has already run 7.6 million trials, with 99.11 percent sensitivity. Though science has been her passion since first starting a science club in the third grade, Brittany has managed to master other talents as well as a varsity soccer player and mentor to students in her community.
  • Kid “maker” builds paint-bot with artistic flair: 11-year-old Sylvia Todd—known to many as “Super-Awesome Sylvia”—hails from Auburn, California, and is making the most of being a young maker. Inspired by her first visit to a Maker Faire at age 7, Sylvia quickly learned to solder and started a web show with her father devoted to sharing the fun of “making” with the world. Sylvia had the idea to build a drawing robot that paints with watercolors, and with the help of Evil Mad Scientists Laboratories and lot of hard work, she spent her President’s Week school-vacation turning the idea into reality. Today, Sylvia’s web videos have been viewed millions of times and she is slated to showcase her art ‘bot at the 2013 RoboGames.
  • Teens design pedal-powered filtration system: High-schoolers Payton Karr and Kiona Elliot, from Oakland Park, Florida, led a team of inventors who designed a collapsible, transportable, bicycle-powered emergency water-sanitation station that filters E. coli and other harmful pathogens from contaminated water. In emergencies, the device can be assembled and disassembled in under an hour, and can produce enough water to hydrate 20 – 30 people during a 15 hour period. Payton, Kiona, and their Northeast High School classmates received a 2012 InvenTeam grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program, which supported their development of the innovative design. Both Payton and Kiona intend to be the first in their families to attend college.
  • Young inventors design alarm system to save swimmers’ lives: Julie Xu, Spencer Ottarson, and a team of ambitious high-schoolers from Willamston, Michigan, invented the Offshore Rip Current Alert System (ORCA)—a buoy outfitted with a solar-powered flow-meter and alarm system that can alerts swimmers to dangerous conditions in the water. The students, who were selected to be a 2012 Lemelson-MIT program InvenTeam, built the device with the goal of reducing the number of drowning deaths due to rip currents in the Great Lakes. Julie moved to the United States from China in 1999 and plans to study biomedical engineering in college. Spencer is a freshman computer science major at Michigan State University who hopes to harness his entrepreneurial spirit to someday build and run his own software start-up.
  • High-school “fly boys” launch rockets (and stellar aviation careers): As rocketry-loving students at Wooddale High School’s aviation program in Memphis, Tennessee, Wesley Carter and Darius Hooker trained for private pilot’s licenses and studied rocket science alongside their traditional coursework. Sometimes called “fly boys” by their peers, Wesley and Darius received financial support from their community to travel to Washington for the Team America Rocketry Challenge—which dared competitors to propel eggs to a certain altitude and return them to the ground unbroken in less than a minute. Darius is now earning his aircraft mechanics license at the Tennessee Technology Center and plans to attend college before taking a job with FedEx, and Wesley is studying at Middle Tennessee State University.
  • Girl Scout Troop develops non-pharmaceutical remedy for sleeplessness in senior citizens: When faced with the challenge of alleviating insomnia without complicated drug interactions, The Atomic Flying Pickles, a FIRST Lego League team of 6th grade Girl Scouts hailing from Los Alamos, New Mexico, came up with a novel idea. After reading about a circulating water cooling cap that was used in a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine sleep study, the girls set about creating a cheaper, lighter, and less onerous solution—the cooling headband. Summer Bronson, Catherine Rousculp, and their teammates have already begun to test the model to the great enthusiasm of their subjects. When not helping seniors to rest easy or designing Lego robots, Summer and Catherine both enjoy computer programming and rock climbing.
  • Young problem solvers make fuel wood-alternative from bio-waste: Jon Kubricki and Bridget Zarych, both 16-year-old students at Pinelands Eco Regional High School in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, are winning team-members of the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge. Jon, Bridget, and their teammates designed a low-cost, easy-to-ship mini-press that can turn biomass waste products, such as banana peels, into a viable wood-alternative for cooking. Jon lived the first two years of his life in a Guatemala City orphanage, before moving to New Jersey with his adopted family. He is a football player, wrestler, and fisherman who hopes to pursue a fisheries science degree in college. Bridget is deeply involved in theater arts at school, and says her hero is her Mom.
  • Multi-heritage city-design team innovates for urban water management: Emily Ocon, Catalina Rincon-Arcila, and Amanda Gonzalez are students at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Miami, Florida, whose city-design, Infinitum X, earned them a Future City National Award for Best Management of Water Resources. The students designed a progressive urban environment that can handle large amounts of storm-water runoff by using green technologies and major roadways as storm-water filtration and transport surfaces. Teamwork and sharing diverse perspectives are important to these students, whose parents come from Colombia, Nicaragua, Italy, and Cuba. Emily, Catalina, and Amanda recently learned that they will receive a student recognition award at an upcoming Association of Cuban Engineers Gala.

— And this is from the 2012 White House science fair:

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · April 22, 2013