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President Barack Obama made some waves and warned the robots at the White House Science Fair on Monday, but it was the elementary-school Supergirls who captured his science-loving heart. Wearing red capes over their Girl Scout uniforms, the 6-year-olds from Tulsa, Oklahoma, showed off a page-turning robot, made from Lego blocks and designed for use by disabled people. Later, Obama confessed he was tickled by the kids' command of techno-lingo. "This is a quote. They said, 'It's just a prototype,'" he recalled.
As the president toured the three dozen exhibits, he splashed water in a wave tank to demonstrate how a lakeside power-generating system works, and got the lowdown on the science behind the show. "What's the concept behind the algorithm?" he asked Anvita Gupta, a 17-year-old junior from Scottsdale, Arizona, who came up with software that looks for potential new drugs to treat cancer, Ebola and other diseases.
A couple of the projects featured robots, including one that catches and throws balls. "The robots I see keep getting smarter every year," Obama said. "We are keeping an eye on that, by the way. You're on notice, Skynet."
This was the fifth White House Science Fair, which Obama said was the "most fun event of the year." He took the opportunity to tout science, technology, engineering and math education, also known as STEM, and touted his administration's STEM initiatives as well, including:
- More than $240 million in new private-sector pledges for the "Educate to Innovate" campaign, including $150 million to support early-career scientists. The new commitments push the campaign over the billion-dollar mark, Obama said. Also, the Education Department is launching a $25 million grant competition as part of its Ready-to-Learn Television program to promote science literacy.
- Achievement of the administration's goal of seeing wireless broadband Internet access made available to at least 98 percent of America's population, thanks to public as well as private investment.
- Creation of a Broadband Opportunity Council to extend Internet access and increase competition, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker as co-chairs.
"It's not enough for our country just to be proud of you," Obama told the students and teachers assembled at the White House. "We've also got to support you."
- White House Science Fair Puts Kids in Serious Spotlight
- Stars of the Science Fair: Where Are They Now?
- Watch Obama's Walk-Through (White House / YouTube)