Barack Obama, Tristan Evarts
Susan Walsh  /  AP
President Barack Obama talks to Tristan Evarts, second from left, of Londonderry, N.H., about a science-fair project focusing on driver distraction. The students' invention sounds an alarm if the drivers' hands get too close to each other while the car is moving. Obama checked out 11 award-winning science projects during in the White House's State Dining Room on Monday.
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updated 10/18/2010 3:29:45 PM ET 2010-10-18T19:29:45

A device to discourage texting while driving. A self-powered hydroelectric water purification device. A test of whether foam really is the best material to pad the inside of a safety helmet.

These projects weren't put together by some of the country's best scientists, but were assembled by up-and-comers who won a range of science, technology, engineering and math competitions. They brought their projects to a science fair at the White House on Monday.

President Barack Obama reveled in it. He spent nearly an hour viewing 11 science projects on display in the State Dining Room, ranging from cancer therapies to solar-power cars, water purification systems and robotic wheelchairs. And he intensely questioned the presenters.

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"It's hard to describe just how impressive these young people are," Obama, who is emphasizing math and science education, said afterward at a reception. Their work "is a testament to the potential that awaits when we inspire young people to take part in the scientific enterprise."

Obama, who shows a personal fascination with science, said these victories often go unnoticed.

"You know, when you win first place at a science fair, nobody's rushing the field or dumping Gatorade over your head," said Obama, who has welcomed many championship professional and college athletic teams to the White House.

"But in many ways, our future depends on what happens in those contests, what happens 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," he said.

Obama said the U.S. is being outpaced by other countries and he wants American students to move from the middle to the top in science and math over the decade.

He also announced his appearance in a Dec. 8 episode of "MythBusters," a Discovery Channel program that uses science to uncover the truth behind urban legends.

"I taped a special guest appearance for their show — although I didn’t get to blow anything up," Obama said. "I was a little frustrated with that."

During the episode, Obama will challenge the show's hosts to determine whether Greek scientist Archimedes could have set fire to an invading Roman fleet using only mirrors and the reflected rays of the sun.

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Now about those helmets.

Three boys from Los Angeles explained their testing method to Obama and said they concluded that foam isn't the best material to protect the head in a bike or other safety helmet. A gel liner is best, they said, but it's also more expensive.

Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Erica Werner contributed to this report. The report was also supplemented by msnbc.com.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama honors young inventors at science fair

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