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White House Unveils STEM Campaign

DARPA programs in manufacturing outreach and protein-folding to drive science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

The White House unveiled a campaign to promote education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during a science fair Monday, kicking off a week of activities to support the administration's Educate to Innovate initiative.

The White House Science Fair and the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which will be held on the National Mall on Oct. 23 and 24, are part of the administration's efforts to promote STEM to improve U.S. global competitiveness, according to the White House.

More than 850 corporations, trade associations, federal agencies, colleges and universities, as well as 300 elementary schools, will take part in the festival, which will feature more than 1,500 interactive exhibits, 75 stage shows and 50 satellite events in 25 states. The administration hopes to reach more than 1 million people with the event.

As part of the festivities, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will launch two programs to stimulate teenagers’ interest in STEM. One is the Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach (MENTOR) program, which will donate tools for design and fabrication -- such as 3D printers -- at 1,000 high schools. The agency also will use prize-based challenges and social networks to promote student teams to design and manufacture go-carts, mobile robots and small unmanned vehicles.

Another program, called ENGAGE, will extend DARPA's Fold-It program, which has been teaching 13-year-old students to solve protein-folding problems. ENGAGE will leverage games and computer simulations to personalize learning, as well as to help researchers learn how to customize this kind of learning for students of that age group, according to the White House.

Together, the two programs are part of what DARPA calls the Renaissance of Wonder campaign to promote STEM education.

A nonprofit group backed by big names and launched exclusively to promote STEM education in underprivileged communities also is taking part in the science fair by launching a viral video competition. Change the Equation -- supported by such technology luminaries as Bill Gates and former Intel CEO Craig Barrett -- is sponsoring a contest that asks companies to create videos for students demonstrating the jobs that are available to them if they excel in math and science, according to the White House.

President Obama himself will appear in a science-oriented TV show that is popular with the 9- to 14-year-old crowd. Obama will appear on a Dec. 8 episode of “Mythbusters,” a show on the Discovery Channel that tries to debunk popular urban myths and wives' tales in science.

The Obama episode will air in a commercial-free STEM television programming special as part of the administration's Educate to Innovate campaign, the White House said.

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