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Young inventors wow President Obama at annual White House Science Fair

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More than 100 students from across the country presented their winning science and technology projects to President Obama today at the fourth annual White House Science Fair. Fair participants included a Baltimore Girl Scout troop who invented a “flood-proof” bridge and a 12-year-old Ft. Lauderdale boy who has patents pending for his retractable training wheel design and sandless sandbag innovation. Cancer survivor Elana Simon, an 18-year-old from New York City, explained to the President how she performed genomic sequencing tests on tissue samples to aide researchers in finding a cure for the type of liver cancer she had suffered.

The annual fair is part of the President’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign launched in November 2009. The initiative is a collaborative effort of businesses, educational institutions and the federal government to improve the quality of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the United States. One goal of the campaign is to increase the number of excellent STEM teachers by 100,000 in ten years. At today’s White House Science Fair, President Obama announced the U.S. Department of Education is launching a $35 million teacher-training grant competition to help fund STEM teacher preparation programs.

“Your generation, young people, is learning more than people in some ages ever did, and our job is to make sure that you’ve got everything you need to continue on this path of discovery, and experimentation, and innovation that has been the hallmark not only of human progress but also the hallmark of American progress.” — President Barack Obama

This year, the fair has a special focus on girls and women in STEM. The President noted that less than one-third of workers in science and engineering fields are women; fewer than 1 in 5 bachelor’s degrees in computer science and engineering are awarded to women. “We’ve got half our team we’re not putting on the field,” Obama says of this gap. The administration has been working to get under-represented groups, such as women, excited about STEM education and careers by offering additional Race to the Top incentives to schools that actively seek to close the gender gap.

Obama also announced an expansion of STEM AmeriCorps, which provides STEM learning opportunities for low-income students. This summer, AmeriCorps mentors will connect with approximately 18,000 at-risk students from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia to engage in STEM learning activities such as building robots and writing code to be uploaded to the International Space Station. Students will also participate in a “Scientist- for- a- Day” program that will allow them to explore STEM careers.