The fourth annual White House Science Fair took place on Tuesday, and it gave President Obama a chance to have all sorts of adorable, semi-awkward interactions with brilliant kids.
There was a 12-year-old who invented retractable bicycle training wheels and a new form of flood protection. And a high school senior from Oklahoma who created a “concussion cushion” football helmet.
Peyton Robertson, a 12-year-old wearing a suit and tie, said he’d taken some polymer-related course work at the University of Mississippi when he was eight. (Did you take college courses at age eight? I didn’t think so.)
“I can tell you’re a high-powered guy,” the president told him. Robertson invented a lightweight, high-tech version of a sandbag that uses polymers that expand when exposed to water, having been inspired by his experience living through Hurricane Wilma in Florida in 2005.
Obama marveled at a toy model of a polymer, saying, “Sometimes in the Oval Office I just look at them,” joking he had something like it.
Later, in a speech following a tour of some of the projects, Obama said of Peyton:
“I would just advise people — I can’t do this because I’ve got a conflict of interest — if you can buy stock in Peyton, you should do so now. He actually had two projects here, both patented or patents pending.”
Obama also chatted up a team from Hudson, Massachusetts, that created a basketball catapult, which Obama was very eager to try out (but also slightly scared).
According to a White House press pool report, Obama asked the three inventors if they wanted to become engineers.
“Daisjaughn Bass, 13, said he was more interested in a career playing backetball. Obama, with a knowing look, asked how tall his parents were. After hearing they were not exceptionally tall, the president advised, “Keep up with your science homework!”
The science fair featured more than 100 students from more than 30 states, and specifically focused on girls and women who are drawn to science, technology engineering and math (STEM) careers.
In a speech after touring some of the science fair projects, Obama contrasted the kids’ impressive inventions with his own schoolwork when he was their age.
“Now, I have a confession to make. When I was growing up, my science fair projects were not as successful as the ones here. One year, I accidently killed some plants that were a part of my experiment. Another time, a bunch of mice escaped in my grandmother’s apartment. These experiments did not take me straight to the White House.”