Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the National Science Bowl at the National Building Museum

May 03, 2010

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you so much.

Well, this has been a thrill for me. And let me do our winners a favor. Put those trophies down. (Laughter.) Put them down. You've earned the right not to hold them up. (Laughter.)

But these are the real stars. It's just been a pleasure to join you here at the National Building Museum for the 20th Annual National Science Bowl. This has been a real treat. I've been looking forward to this.

I got to share the stage with Secretary Chu earlier in this year, who is not only one of the world's leading scientists but also, as you all know, a visionary leader for our Department of Energy. And he may just have an alternate career as a game-show host when he's done with this. He's really good at it.

But we're very proud to have Secretary Chu on our team. He's doing a tremendous job, and he is an example of the concrete outcomes that come with the work that you're doing today. This is why we need to invest in you all so much, and we're so very proud of you.

Also, to all of the organizers, all of the volunteers, to the teachers, let's give our teachers a round of applause. (Applause.) And we can't forget all of the family members who are here. I know there are people in the back. Let's give our parents and family members a round of applause. (Applause.) You all are all the true winners here. Thank you for giving your time, your support to this next generation of American innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs.

And finally, last but not least, congratulations again to the two winning teams and to every single student here who has participated in this year's National Science Bowl, both here in Washington and in your hometowns in the months leading up today. Again, we can't tell you how proud we are of the hard work that obviously requires putting into something like this. I had to study just to read the questions. (Laughter.) So I know you all have put in a lot of work.

But by competing in this event, you are sharpening the skills that have consistently moved our country forward. This is the profession that has done it in so many ways: creativity, discipline, teamwork, problem-solving, and a whole lot of hard work. That's what it takes to make change. You've worked so hard, and again the President and I -- and he is fully aware that I am here. I went over some of the questions with him. He didn't know many of the answers, but that's okay. (Laughter.) Neither did I. But we are both so very proud of all of you.

We believe deeply in the importance of science and math. This is an important investment in this generation and beyond for the future of this country.

And this year we're going to host the first-ever White House science fair for students from all across the country. As the President has said -- (applause) -- he says this all the time. He says, when you win the NCAA championship, the winners come to the White House. And we think that budding inventors, scientists and mathematicians should be at the White House, too. So we're going to be excited to host you there. (Applause.)

As many people have already said, we're determined to show the world and this country how cool science can really be. We want young people energized in the way that you all are, because we know that American brainpower in science and math has always driven this country's prosperity, helping us make the discoveries and to build the industries that have transformed the way we live and work.

That's why my husband and his administration want to ensure that every single child in this country gets a good education, particularly in math and science.

Next week's National Lab Day is a great example of what this might look like -- this kind of investment. The President has highlighted his grassroots effort, which brings together scientists like Secretary Chu, organizations representing teachers, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and local volunteers to work with young people in fun hands-on learning.

These students are going to be with us, they're going to launch rockets, construct miniature windmills, and learn by doing and not just by listening.

We want to bring more hands-on learning like this to students by also modernizing science labs and supporting project-based learning, and expanding advanced courses in schools throughout the country.

We want to create more opportunities for under-represented groups as well, particularly women and girls. We want them to have the confidence -- (applause) -- we want all our young women to have the confidence and the support to take on the study and to succeed in the study of science, math, engineering and technology.

And we want to build communities of support for all the teachers who make these subjects come alive for our students. We couldn't do it without you. (Applause.)

And just a few minutes ago, thanks to the participation of the media in this, this country has seen what these students are capable of doing.

In the coming decades, our future scientists, engineers, and leaders are going to help tackle some of our most challenging problems. We are going to need you. Whether it's improving our health, harnessing clean energy, protecting our security, succeeding in the global economy, we're going to need you. Our future depends on a new generation of young Americans who can help reaffirm our role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and innovation. America is the birthplace of the airplane and the air conditioner and the polio vaccine and the Band-Aid and the light bulb and the Internet. Who knows what this country's next young people can bring to us in the next 50 years or even in the next five years?

One thing is for sure: We never know where science might take us. Big discoveries haven't always had the most obvious starting points, as well. For instance, one day Richard Feynman, a leading American scientist after World War II, was sitting in his university's cafeteria and across the room he saw a guy throwing a plate up into the air. And he noticed how it spun and tilted, and he said to himself, now, you know what, I'm going to figure out why that plate wobbles like that.

Simple question, right? He knew it might not be all that important, that it was just a silly little problem, but he really didn't care, because he was like Secretary Chu -- he was passionate and he was hungry for the answers and he was very curious. He was having fun just figuring it out for no reason at all. He was just playing around. And you know what that led to? The process that started when that guy threw a plate up in the air eventually turned into some new ideas about quantum electrodynamics. And Feynman won a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 for that work.

As he wrote, he said, "The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with that wobbling plate." So maybe it was just a wobbling plate, or maybe it's the way the wind blows through the trees, or the way the dust makes you sneeze, or how watermelons explode when you drop them from a two-story window -- but to the parents and coaches and teachers here, I urge you to continue to let these students just play. Just play around with these ideas and these possibilities. Let them get their hands dirty. Let them experiment.

To the students, I just encourage you, don't be afraid to play and to ask questions. Don't be afraid to step off the beaten plan as you learn to find those new answers, and never, never -- I tell my girls this -- don't be afraid to fail, because oftentimes in failure comes the best ideas. Have fun. Keep having fun. Keep poking around. And truly always follow your passions, no matter what people say.

Our country and our world, we need your energy, we need your creativity. And who knows, maybe you'll save thousands of lives with a new vaccine or finding a new way to grow soy beans. Maybe your life's work will be on display right here at the National Building Museum some day. Maybe you'll learn how to meet our country's energy needs using only the sun's warmth and the Earth's wind and water. Maybe you'll change the world in ways none of us can even imagine now.

What's always been true is that with enough creativity and thinking and a lot of hard work, science has shown us that time and time again that that "maybe" can be the beginning of something truly wonderful.

So thank you, all. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for your passion. And we will be supporting you every step of the way. We're so very proud. Thanks again. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the National Science Bowl at the National Building Museum Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320604

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