Young Engineers and Scientists Shine at the White House Science Fair

Girls in ICT Day may have already passed, but its spirit was alive this week at the White House Science Fair.

From building electric dune buggies and flood-proof bridges, to improving the safety of city streets for pedestrians and full-contact football for players, the President was eager to meet with the creators of these impressive projects in the nation’s capital.

Paula Golden and Brenna Wallin at the 2014 White House Science Fair.
Paula Golden and Brenna Wallin at the 2014 White House Science Fair.

More than 100 students — from grade-school-age Girl Scouts through university-level scholars — gathered at the event, where some exhibited their award-winning science and engineering projects to the President and other dignitaries.

The fourth-annual Science Fair had representatives from more than 40 different STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competitions. President Barack Obama addressed the crowd, which included educators, students, mentors and STEM programming advocates.

The President’s focus this year was to raise awareness about women in STEM. He made the case for encouraging more women to pursue careers in in science and engineering, emphasizing that our nation is leaving untapped talent on the table without equal representation in those fields.

“We’re putting a special focus on all the inspiring girls and young women who are excelling in science,” he said on the official White House blog, and noted that “fewer than three in 10 workers in science and engineering are women … we’ve got to change those numbers.”

The President also gave a shout-out to a Girl Scout Brownie troop, several members of which sported STEM-themed badges from the Society of Women Engineers on their scout uniforms.

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As in past years, Broadcom MASTERS was represented. This year, 2013 MASTERS participant Brenna Wallin, 14, of Lexington, Ky., attended alongside Paula Golden, Executive Director of the Broadcom Foundation and Director of Community Affairs at Broadcom.

Wallin competed as a finalist in the Broadcom MASTERS science and engineering competition with her project on the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, which leaked radiation into the Pacific Ocean. She tested and compared cesium 137 levels in wild-caught Pacific sockeye salmon against farm-raised Atlantic salmon, hypothesizing that because the plume of radiation from Fukushima intersected the migratory routes of the Pacific sockeye salmon, it would have more ionizing radiation.

Along with viewing students’ exhibits, the President also announced new funding and programming commitments to his Educate to Innovate campaign, including a new $35 million Department of Education competition, an expansion of the STEM AmeriCorps for low-income students, and a national STEM mentoring effort.

“President Obama’s annual science fair is an affirmation of his belief that the education of our children, particularly in STEM fields, is essential to the national health and welfare of the nation and the world,” Golden said.

Brenna Wallin with Bill Nye "The Science Guy"
Brenna Wallin with Bill Nye “The Science Guy”

Other notables made appearances at the White House Science Fair, including Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz; actor and former Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement Kal Penn, and Kari Byron, co-host of the popular TV show “MythBusters.”

It was great to see the Girl scouts and other young women show their enthusiasm for STEM,” Golden said. “Brenna and I were privileged to be included in an event that brought together the best and brightest minds — those who have made their mark, and those, like Brenna, who will do so as the innovators of the future.”