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Robots and Other Wonders Lure American Kids to Science

By Eric Green

Special Correspondent

Washington — Robots that kick soccer balls, solar-powered vehicles and helmets that offer virtual bike rides were some of the attractions at America’s first national science exposition, the grand finale of two weeks of activities intended to motivate more young people to pursue careers in science.

The expo drew an estimated half million visitors to the National Mall — the grassy expanse between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument — October 23–24, with hundreds of interactive exhibits showing off new technological marvels in science and related fields.

In a related event earlier in the week, President Obama hosted the first White House Science Fair. He stressed the need to increase the participation of America’s students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Young people who win science and math competitions deserve the same recognition as members of championship sports teams, Obama said. “In many ways, our future depends on what happens in those contests — when a young person is engaged in conducting an experiment, or writing a piece of software, or solving a hard math problem, or designing a new gadget.”

The winners of 15 national youth science and technology competitions were invited to the White House Science Fair. Their projects represent the cutting edge in science, technology and engineering, said Obama, praising their solar-powered cars, water purification systems, robotic wheelchairs and promising new cancer drugs.

The president’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign announced last year calls for moving America from the middle to the top in international rankings of math and science education over the next decade and to expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls.

“Nothing can prepare you better for success than the education you’re receiving in math and science,” he said.


More than 850 organizations from the public and private sector helped stage the science expo on the Mall, billed as one of the largest events of its kind ever in the United States. It was the culmination of the USA Science & Engineering Festival launched by entrepreneur Larry Bock — who modeled it on science fairs he had seen in Europe — in partnership with the Lockheed Martin Corporation. The festival, which started October 10, included 75 satellite events, contests and exhibits across the country.

At the exhibits on the Mall, visitors could test their knowledge of chemistry, chat with humanoid robots, watch a robot play soccer (what most of the world calls football), handle a rocket engine and learn about the science behind human expression, race cars, spacecraft, satellites and much more.

An exhibit set up by secondary students in Alexandria, Virginia, showed visitors a replica of a 400-year-old telescope used by Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei to examine the nighttime sky. Student Daniel Hothem said the school’s astronomy club is reaching out to elementary school children to spur their interest in science and math. Hothem said his own interest in science derives from wondering “what makes things work.”

Sophia Gershman, a physics teacher at a Warren, New Jersey, high school, helped set up her school’s exhibit of a robotics simulation used to teach the theory of elevator programming and motion. Positive feedback can bring more young people into science, she said. “Kids are like plants — they ought to be watered and grown carefully, and they should be able to grow whichever way they want. If they’re interested in science, we try to foster that interest and give them that opportunity to grow. If not science, they’ll be interested in something else. People who say young people are apathetic are wrong. I don’t believe in that, there’s no such thing.”

Lalaram Guyadin demonstrated his Washington school’s exhibit of a go-cart (a small, low, motorized vehicle) powered by solar energy. Guyadin said his dream is to become an electrical engineer at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration or for private industry, which, he said, will mean a lot of hard work. But he likened himself to an athlete striving to become a champion, and said the result will be worth the effort. Guyadin said he intends to study electrical engineering at Georgia Tech University and to someday offer the world his own scientific invention.

Robyn Needel, a mentor for a high school robotics team based at Gwynn Oak, Maryland, called the “Technowarriors,” said advising students at her school on building a robot that plays soccer was an “insidious way to get kids interested in science” — what she termed “sports of the mind.”

“Once kids get hands-on experience working on such projects as building robots, they become unbelievably excited about science, engineering and technology,” said Needel.

The school’s exhibit at the expo of the soccer-playing robot attracted a large crowd, many of them young children — perhaps future scientists — who gazed in wonderment as the robot kicked the ball.

Read more about the USA Science & Engineering Festival ( ) on the festival website.

See the White House website for additional background on the White House Science Fair ( ), a transcript of Obama’s remarks ( ) during the October 18 event, a White House blog, and more about the Educate to Innovate ( ) campaign.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
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