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Students Demonstrate Innovation at White House Science Fair

President Barack Obama talks with Evan Jackson, 10, Alec Jackson, 8, and Caleb Robinson, 8, from McDonough, Ga., while looking at exhibits at the White House Science Fair in the State Dining Room, April 22, 2013. The sports-loving grade-schoolers created a new product concept to keep athletes cool and helps players maintain safe body temperatures on the field. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama talks with Evan Jackson, 10, Alec Jackson, 8, and Caleb Robinson, 8, from McDonough, Ga., while looking at exhibits at the White House Science Fair in the State Dining Room, April 22, 2013. The sports-loving grade-schoolers created a new product concept to keep athletes cool and helps players maintain safe body temperatures on the field. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

As a kid, I didn’t quite grasp the science behind a game of hopscotch or ball and jacks.  It was later in life that I learned the scientific principles behind my childhood fun. Today, in an era of high-definition video games and 3-dimensional TV’s, it’s more challenging than ever to keep kids motivated to have fun through exploration and discovery.  But Monday’s 3rd Annual White House Science Fair made me very hopeful once again.

Channeling their curiosity and enthusiasm, young people from across the country gathered to show how they used their sense of discovery to solve a problem.  For example, I met two young men from Memphis, TN who wondered if they could shoot eggs into the air and have them return unbroken.  With two uncooked eggs secured in a rocket, this rocket team blasted the eggs 800 feet and they made it back intact.

I met another dynamic duo of 8th graders from New Jersey who turned peanuts shells and pine straw into small fuel briquettes using a simple device made from 2 x 4’s.  The potential use of this product for many people in developing countries is impressive and moves us one step closer to feeding our growing population.

It’s discoveries such as these that can help lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty by 2022 through improving growth in their agricultural sectors.  In fact, next week, the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture, here in Washington, D.C.,  will demonstrate how open data plays in ensuring global food security, among other things.   And for many presenters at the conference, it all started with a solid foundation of STEM subjects.

USDA knows the value of educating talented, fresh thinkers and fully supports the President’s mission of getting it done.   Having contributed about $92.5 million in 2010 towards the federal STEM investment, we hope to develop the next generation of scientists whose intelligence and talents can address our scientific needs now and on the horizon.

It may work for some video game consoles, but   ‘up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, select, start’ is not the key to unlock the mysteries within agriculture.  The true sequence to pioneering the next ‘big idea’ in plant breeding, genetics, climatology, and more begin with STEM education.  And these bright, young minds are on the right track.

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