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Shaking President Obama’s hand & virtually visiting Mars

White House Frontiers Conference, October 2016 NASA

By Aarushi Pendharkar
Senior, Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science
Intel ISEF 2016 finalist

Aarushi shook President Obama's hand and virtually visited Mars at the White House Frontiers Conference. ~~ Photo courtesy of Aarushi Pendharkar.
Aarushi shook President Obama’s hand and virtually visited Mars at the White House Frontiers Conference. Photo courtesy of Aarushi Pendharkar.

Shaking President Barack Obama’s hand, virtually visiting Mars, and being recognized by the Director of the National Science Foundation — all in a day’s work at the White House Frontiers Conference! After attending the conference’s Global track and the plenary session, it’s clear to me that anything is possible if we think and try hard enough.I was able to share my research with experts in so many fields and they were so appreciative of my work. I realized then that any contribution — any little finding — works to a common goal of discovery.

This was evident in the Global track —all of the speakers were working in different research areas, yet they all had a common goal: to stop global warming.

A key inspiration for me was listening to President Obama’s speech (from the third row!). He shared an anecdote about meeting a paralyzed individual right before entering the plenary session. The individual had mind-controlled robotic hands made for him at the University of Pittsburgh — and when President Obama shook his hand, he could actually sense the touch. I thought that was pretty incredible.

This conference made me even more passionate about my research and STEM, in general.

Thanks to NASA’s exhibit, I was able to virtually visit Mars. Through their virtual-reality goggles, I saw the planet’s surface, and as I rotated my head, I could see the planet from different angles.

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I was able to meet and connect with so many dignitaries in science and share my research with them. I met Dr. France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation, who stopped me because she recognized me from my recent win at Intel ISEF! I also met the CEO of Fitbit and shared my research with the CEO of Virgin Galactic.

Attending the White House Frontiers Conference has made a lasting impact on my life.

I was able to learn about so many ground-breaking technologies, and speak with top experts across multiple fields. This conference has made me even more passionate about my research and about STEM, in general.

Viewing amazing exhibits and hearing so many incredible speakers has opened my mind to the immense range of possibilities that exist in discovering more about this universe and improving the human condition.

No matter the age or gender, the potential of the individual to think and inspire is limitless. After all, as Carl Sagan once said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” And I’d like to think that that something is going be discovered by me!