White House Stages Science Fair

President Obama fires a marshmallow gun and lets robots roam his White House at the White House Science Fair.

Three-year-old Danielle Fairchild probably can’t grasp the magnitude of what she’s enabled. The little girl adopted by Fred and Dale Fairchild in Duluth, Georgia was born with half a thumb and no fingers on her right hand. Half-way across the country a smart teenager and five other girl scouts were looking for a science and technology project to complete.

Danielle Fairchild Writes with Help of Prosthetic Hand

Danielle Fairchild Writes with Help of Prosthetic Hand

Dale Fairchild contacted Kate Murray and the troop of The Flying Monkeys and a partnership was born. 13-year old Murray was born with a thumb but no fingers on her left hand. Despite this digital abnormality she took up the violin five years ago using a device that clips to the bow and wraps around her left palm. And she thought she could help someone else learn to write.

Upon hearing about little Danielle The Flying Monkeys flew into action, learning all they could about prosthetic limbs, talking to doctors and learning how to build one from scratch.

Fast forward to February 7 as Kate Murray, Gaby Dempsey and Mackenzie Gewell present their prosthetic hand device to President Obama in the White House at the second White House Science Fair.

As the President held the BOB-1.2 plastic device in his hand, he said, “This is outstanding.”

President Obama Pumps Air Cannon at White House Science Fair

President Obama Pumps Air Cannon at White House Science Fair

Mr. Obama pumped Joey Hudy’s marshmallow air cannon before launching the blob of sugar 176 feet across the White House Dining Room. Over 100 students joined the President and top science advisers and department heads to shine a bright spotlight on science, technology, math and engineering.

The Flying Monkeys won a $20,000 Innovation award from For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League. FIRST is the non-profit organization started by inventor Dean Kamen, who famously brought us the Segway. And for Murray a trip to the White House is “super exciting.”

She says, “I want to be a mechanical engineer when I grow up. I want to design cars to be more fuel efficient and/or rely entirely on wind or solar energy.”

14-year old Joey Hudy unwittingly stole the show providing spectacular photo opportunities as President Obama listened the story about how the Phoenix teen built his marshmallow air gun from PVC pipe with the help of employees at his local Home Depot. Then he asked if the device was operational and decided on the spot that the two should fire it together.

The President asked that everyone in the line of fire move back because this was an improvised activity while strolling through the student exhibits and talking to the winners of over 40 science fairs and competitions.

Joey Hudy with President Obama Impressed by Power to Shoot a Marshmallow Missile

Joey Hudy with President Obama Impressed by Power to Shoot a Marshmallow Missile

When the gun popped, press cameras clicked wildly and they caught the child-like wonderment in the eyes of the President, which encapsulated the entire White House science fair.

Clearly, the President was impressed by the caliber of projects presented and the students themselves. He said, “Now, as I was walking around the science fair, I was thinking back to when I was your age. And basically, you guys put me to shame.”

President Obama lauded the whip smart students and their clever projects. But he was struck by something more.

He said, “It’s the fact that you recognize that you’ve got a responsibility to use your talents in service to something bigger than yourselves.”

He said some students will develop new products that change the way we live. He pointed out Hayley Hoverter, the winner of the 2011 Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship’s National Challenge. The 16-year-old Los Angeles resident invented a flavorless, colorless sugar packet that dissolves in hot water.

About her invention the President said, “It could potentially save up to two million pounds of trash each year — and that’s just at Starbucks.” Mastercard gave the teen $10,000 to turn her concept into a working business.

Next the President said that some students will see a problem in their town or city and do something about it. After 14-year old Benjamin Hylak was worried that seniors in nursing homes would get lonely he built a robot attached to a computer monitor. His telepresence robot which moves around the center and allows seniors to connect via Skype with their family and friends qualified him as a BROADCOM Masters Competition 2011 finalist.

Angela Zhang Explains Her Nanoparticle Cancer Treatment

Angela Zhang Explains Her Nanoparticle Cancer Treatment

President Obama said, “Inventions like Benjamin’s could make life better for millions of families.”

The same holds for the three representatives from California.

Angela Zhang of Cupertino, who has proposed a potential cure for cancer. This year, she won a $100,000 grand prize in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for her nanoparticle cancer treatment. She says, “I keep saying 60 years from now I will probably be telling my grandkids everything that happened when I was 17.”

Hayley Hoverter of Los Angeles, who developed sugar packets that dissolve in hot drinks is the now the 16-year old CEO of Sweet (dis)SOLVE. She spoke at TEDx SoCal last year.

Neil de Grasse Tyson with Braeden Benedict at White House Science Fair

Neil de Grasse Tyson with Braeden Benedict at White House Science Fair

Braeden Benedict of Ranchos Palos Verdes designed a device to detect concussions in athletes after one of his football teammates experienced prolonged concussion symptoms and had to stop playing contact sports. The 15-year old designed a helmet-mounted sensory detector that turns red when an athlete is hit hard enough to cause a concussion.

He took the top prize in America’s 2011 Top Young Scientist competition at the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge where he won $25,000 for his efforts.

The President spoke of the adversity several groups of students overcame just to be at the science fair. A rocketry team from Presidio, Texas came from the 4th poorest school district in the nation where most students speak English as a second language. Parents raised money to help the students make the trip to Washington D.C. Mr. Obama said they even sold a goat to make the journey to the White House.

He applauded the winners of the Michigan Regional Contest of the National Engineers Week Future City Competition. Three Detroit students imagined a clean energy future for their city and while they were doing so their school burned down, forcing them to merge with another school while they completed their project. The team said, “(Future City) helps me make a better city to live in.” They designed there vision around a city following the theme of “Fuel Your Future: Imagine New Ways to Meet Our Energy Needs and Maintain a Healthy Planet.”

Samantha Garvey Tells President Obama about Mussels

Samantha Garvey Tells President Obama about Mussels

The President also acknowledged 18-year old Samantha Garvey, who has spent a lot of time with the President lately. The high school senior from New York made headlines after winning a spot in the semi-finals of the Intel science talent search. But more than her ingenious project studying mussel predation on Long Island she captured the attention of America because when she found out she was a semi-finalist she was homeless.

Since then she has appeared on television and sat in the First Lady’s box at the State of the Union Address last month. At the White House science fair the President announced that the teen would like to work for NOAA or EPA some day. Pointing at them he said, “This is Dr. Lubchenco. She is the head of NOAA. Lisa Jackson, right there, head of EPA. You might, you know, just want to hook up with them before you leave.”

The President said that all the students who participated in the science fair inspired him. He said, “It’s young people like you who make me so confident that America’s best days are still to come.”

President Obama Tells Science Fair Students They Are Paving the Way to the Future

President Obama Tells Science Fair Students They Are Paving the Way to the Future

He went on to say, “When you work and study and excel. What you are 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. You’re making sure we have the best, smartest, most skilled workers in the world so the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root right here. You’re making sure that we will always be home to the most creative entrepreneurs, the most advanced science labs and universities. You’re making sure America will win the race to the future. So as an American, I’m proud of you. As your President I think we need to make sure your success stories are happening all across the country. That’s why when I took office I called for an all hands on deck approach to science, technology, math and engineering.”

Dale Fairchild says that before The Flying Monkey’s created BOB-1 for little Danielle to use as she learns to write the toddler used her right hand like a flipper. But after the molded plastic device arrived, complete with a Vel-cro(TM) strap to attached a plastic pencil holder, the girl began using her fingerless hand to pick things up.

The teen engineers have never met Danielle Fairchild but their prosthetic hand device is going through the expensive and lengthy patent process, placing the teen inventors on track to help many more people besides the little girl in Georgia.


C-SPAN coverage of President Obama’s speech to the White House Science Fair, Feb. 7, 2012. (15:13)

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