A 'Super' White House Science Fair
March 30, 2015
by Mark Ollig

Students of all ages, along with their inventions and experiments, attended the fifth annual White House Science Fair last Monday, hosted by President Obama.

Students presented their science projects, while the president would comment, ask questions, and take pictures with them.

This year’s theme focused on STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math).

Demonstrating their science projects before the president, students explained why they created their project, how it worked, showed the results obtained from their experiments, and described its benefits.

I felt, the highlight of this year’s science fair was the automatic book page-turning mechanical device, created using Lego plastic blocks, by five 6-year-old kindergarten and first grade girl students.

Their science fair project sat on a green cloth covered table.

A colorful, informative poster was positioned behind it.

President Obama approached the student’s display, smiled, and greeted them with; “Hey guys! Hello! What’s your names?”

The five students were: Emily Bergenroth, Alicia Cutter, Karissa Cheng, Addy Oneal, and Emery Dodson, all from Tulsa, OK.

He shook each girl’s hand, as they introduced themselves.

“Tell me about your experiment, tell me about your project,” stated the president.

The young student inventors were each wearing a uniformed blue shirt and a red cape with an “S” logo on it.

“We’re the Supergirls from Girl Scout Troop 411,” replied one of the students.

The president grinned and quipped, “Which is why you guys are wearing capes.”

One student began explaining their project, “We looked at different books that are used in education and learning.”

Another student told the president, books are a great learning tool, but some people are unable to turn the pages in a book, due to medical conditions, such as being paralyzed, arthritis, or that “their arms might not work.”

“So, we invented a device that can help people turn pages in a book,” one of the students said.

The students then turned toward the table where their page-turning device sat, and began to explain how it worked, while the president carefully watched and listened.

Then, they turned on the battery-powered device.

A low buzzing sound was heard as it began operating.

The plastic flywheel began to slowly spin over the page of the opened book placed beneath it, and would “catch” a single book page, using one of four, small, Lego rubber tires attached to each of four individual arms extending from the center hub of the motorized flywheel.

The book page would flip-up to this flywheel, because of the friction caused by a separate Lego plastic arm positioned near the edge of the pages of the book acting as a pendulum.

This plastic pendulum arm would flip up the next page, in order for the flywheel’s rubber tire to catch, and then turn the page over.

The turned page would then neatly lay flat against the previously turned pages.

This demonstration caught the president’s eye.

He leaned down, placing his right hand on the table, while closely looking at the plastic, gear-driven motorized device, as it automatically turned the pages in the book.

One page would be turned about every two seconds.

“Well . . . this is wonderful!” the president exclaimed. “How did you guys figure this out?”

“We had a brainstorming session,” one of the young students replied.

The president then asked how long it took them to build the page-turning device.

“Three months,” they answered.

As the page-turning device continued to quickly flip through the pages of the book, the president watched and commented, “It’s working really well, although you’ve got to read kind of fast.”

The president then asked if they were able to slow it down, and speed it up; the students replied in unison: “No . . . ”

One of the students quickly added, “It’s a prototype.”

The president laughed, and looked around the room towards the sound crew, photographers, reporters, and others, and quipped, “It’s a prototype! . . . it’s a prototype . . . it will get refined later!”

All the people in the room shared in the laughter and smiled.

He then turned back to the students, who were resetting the book page-turning device, and said, “So, do you guys like inventing things, and building things like this?”

They nodded, and all responded with, “yes.”

“You guys are very good at this. I’m so impressed,” the president said to them.

The president then took pictures with the five smiling students, while standing in front of their page-turning science fair project.

After the picture taking, he told them, “You got to keep on learning math and science, and you guys are going to build all kinds of great things when you get older.”

“You’re already great inventors, with your brainstorming sessions and prototypes,” he added.

One student innocently asked the president, “Have you ever had a brainstorming session, yourself?”

The president smiled. “I had a couple brainstorming sessions, but I didn’t come up with anything this good,” he said while pointing at the student’s page-turning device.

The official White House YouTube channel uploaded about an hour long video of the 2015 White House Science Fair (page-turning invention starts at 30:43) at http://tinyurl.com/pgobn5e.

I took a YouTube screen-capture of President Obama watching the Supergirls Lego book page-turner in action, and posted it at http://tinyurl.com/n9js5v3.

Tweets about the science fair are using the Twitter hashtag, #WHScienceFair.

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