Eight Society for Science & the Public Science Fair Alumni Participate in the First White House Science Fair

President Obama Praises the Next Generation of Innovators

Eight Society for Science & the Public (SSP) science fair alumni attended the first ever White House Science Fair today where President Obama honored winners of the nation’s top science competitions and viewed their award-winning projects.

Eight of the participants were in at least one of SSP’s prestigious science education programs: the Intel Science Talent Search, the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, or the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (1999-2007). The students invited to participate were Betlihem Ayalew, 16, of Washington, DC; Amy Chyao, 16, of Richardson, Texas; Erika DeBenedictis, 18, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Eric Delgado, 20, of Bayonne, N.J.; Courtney Jackson, 17, of Cloquet, Minn.; Raina Jain, 16, of Bethlehem, Penn., Nicholas Rajen, 17, of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Laurie Rumker, 17, of Portland, Ore. All are current high school students except DeBenedictis, who is now a freshman at the California Institute of Technology, and Delgado, who is now a junior at Yale University.

“These outstanding alumni are representative of the thousands of students around the country and the world whose intelligence, creativity, and discipline hold the answers to some of our most pressing challenges,” said Elizabeth Marincola, president of SSP. “Their curiosity and commitment to innovation are truly remarkable, as is this recognition by President Obama. I commend the President’s commitment to math and science education and to celebrating the achievements of these accomplished students.” Marincola attended the event with the SSP alumni.

All student participants were able to meet the President, and some of them, including Chyao and DeBenedictis, had the opportunity to discusstheir research with the President. Following the Fair, the President addressed the students, science educators and business leaders in attendance about the centrality of math and science education for our country’s economic future. Today’s event kicks off a week that culminates with the USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall. SSP is an official participant in the Festival.

The White House Science Fair fulfilled a promise President Obama made in 2009, when he launched the Educate to Innovate campaign: “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

The SSP Alumni Participants

Ayalew was an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Finalist for her finding that the regeneration rate of Planaria, which has cells similar to stem sells, is affected when exposed to magnetic fields.

Chyao was awarded first place at the world’s largest pre-college science competition, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2010 for her work to develop a photosensitizer for photodynamic therapy (PDT), an emerging cancer treatment that uses light energy to activate a drug that kills cancer cells. She received $75,000 and the Gordon E. Moore Award, awarded for the first time in 2010 in honor of the Intel co-founder and retired chairman and CEO.

DeBenedictis won the top award of $100,000 at America’s most prestigious pre college science competition, the Intel Science Talent Search 2010 for developing a software navigation system to help improve spacecraft travel through the solar system. Herresearch found that the gravity and movement of planets create “easy transit routes,” which will ultimately help spacecraft move faster and with less fuel. DeBenedictis was also a Finalist at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, as well as a Semifinalist in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (DCYSC)in 2006.

Delgado won fifth place at the Intel Science Talent Search 2008 for engineering a novel gram-negative effective efflux pump inhibitor (EPI) to improve the efficacy of antibiotics against multi-drug-resistant bacteria; he was a Finalist at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Jackson, a member of the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Nation, was a Finalist at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and a Semifinalist in the DCYSC in 2006 and 2007. She examined how coronae, circular depressions, were formed on Venus using Magellan Radar Data to assess the overall geologic history of these formations.

Jain won fourth place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2008 for her research on how glass bone implants could be a better alternative to titanium.

Rajen, a Navajo, was a Finalist at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2008 and 2010. He examined how heat goes in and out of ancient Native American buildings and estimated their thermal conductivity. His research has implications for the energy efficiency of modern buildings. Rajen and Jackson were also top participants in competitions of the American  Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES).

Rumker, who won first place in Environmental Management at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2010 and second place in the same category at the fairin 2009, found that organoclay, a clay material that is used to contain pollutants in water ecosystems, is susceptibl to biodegration by microorganisms in river sediments, which could affect the treatment of contaminated sediments. Rumker was also a Finalist in the DCYSC in 2007.

About SSP

Society for Science & the Public (SSP) is one of the nation’s oldest non-profit membership organizations dedicated to public engagement in science and science education. Established in 1921, SSP is a leading advocate for the understanding and appreciation of science and the vital role it plays in human advancement. Through its acclaimed education competitions, including the Intel Science Talent Search, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and the Broadcom MASTERS competition, and its award-winning magazine, Science News, Society for Science & the Public is committed to inform, educate, and inspire. For more information, please view: https://www.societyforscience.org/.


Caitlin Jennings
(202) 872-5158