President Obama stopped by the National Academy of Sciences Monday to deliver remarks in celebration of the NAS’s 150th Anniversary.

President Obama at the National Academy of Sciences Monday, April 29, 2013. (Saul Loeb – AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“For 150 years,” he said, “you’ve strived to answer big questions, solve tough problems, not for yourselves but for the benefit of the nation.  And that legacy has endured from the Academy’s founding days.”

Obama, who last week attended the White House Science Fair, used the event as an opportunity to tout his commitment to furthering science and technology through programs such as the BRAIN initiative—which seeks to complete a full map of the human brain.

“With the pace of technological innovation today, we can’t afford to stand still for a year or two years or three years,” he said, ” We’ve got to seize every opportunity we have to stay ahead.”

The president had a few laugh lines, such as when he credited the NAS’s early Civil War-era work on military technology for, in part, making his presidency— if not, perhaps, his existence—possible.

“The National Academy soon counted the nation’s top scientists as members.  They quickly got to work.  By the next year, they were inspecting the Union’s ironclads and installing an array of bar magnets around the compasses to correct their navigation.  So right off the bat, you guys were really useful.  (Laughter.)  In fact, it’s fair to say we might not be here had you not — (laughter) — certainly I would not be here.”

He also forgot what PCAST stands for (it’s the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology).

Members of the audience listen to U.S. President Barack Obama speaking at the 150th Anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, April 29, 2013. (Larry Downing – Reuters)

The president’s speech went over familiar ground, tying the nation’s STEM-preparedness to its ability to compete globally, “because nobody does it better than we do when it’s adequately funded, when it’s adequately supported.”

That was preceded by this laugh line acknowledging one benefit of the NAS’s volunteer structure:

“Part of what’s made the Academy so effective is that all the scientists elected to your elite ranks are volunteers—which is fortunate because we have no money anyway.”

The president also took the opportunity, as he often does, to call for more and improved training in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—referring to some of the science projects he witnessed during last week’s science fair.

“I mean, I know you guys were smart when you were their age, but,” he said to laughter, “I might give them the edge.”

President Barack Obama speaks at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) 150th Anniversary, during its annual meeting, Monday, April 29, 2013 in Washington. NAS was established in 1863 through a congressional charter signed by President Lincoln. It is a private, nonprofit organization charged with providing independent, objective advice to the US government on matters related to science and technology. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais – AP)

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