It was one small step as Long Island science whizzes were shooed into President Barack Obama’s home Wednesday, but one giant leap in their young lives.
“Oh my God, I recorded my first step into the White House, — my foot going into the building — that’s how I happy I was ” said Christine Yoo, 17, a senior at Manhasset Secondary School.
Getting an invite to the White House Science Fair and shaking hands with the president were just the latest in the glory days for Yoo and fellow classmate Kimberly Te, the grand prize winners in the national Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, and for Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, 17, a senior at Elmont Memorial High School and a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search in January.
They snapped selfies with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan — their portraits, that is — and dined on sandwiches in the Diplomat Room, where Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth have noshed on gourmet meals.
In front of astronauts, teachers, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Adam Savage, former co-host of television’s “MythBusters” and others, Obama talked about a 9-year-old making toys from a 3-D printer and a Connecticut senior who came up with $5, 30-minute test for the Ebola virus to replace the $1,000, 12-hour test.
“The only problem with the Science Fair is it makes me feel a little inadequate,” the president said, causing giggles among the budding scientists.
Later, he shook hands with just about every young guest — it was one of Uwamanzu-Nna’s favorite moments and she seized the chance to shake Obama’s hand several times.
“You see him on TV, you hear him speak the State of the Union, but to see him cross the room and give you a handshake is surreal,” said Uwamanzu-Nna, who has been accepted by all eight Ivy League schools.
She didn’t get to explain her project to Obama — a new cement mix that’s better at preventing leaks in offshore oil wells — but she said the next best thing was spilling it all to Nye.
“It’s great to see someone you watch on TV really appreciate your project, to see that someone like Bill Nye, a professional scientist, someone you look up to, could be enlightened by your work,” said Uwamanzu-Nna, who snapped a selfie with Nye.
Yoo and Te, 17, invented a microbial fuel cell that can help clean oil spills and also produce clean energy by using bacteria found in wastewater or marine sediment.
When Yoo shook Obama’s hands, she couldn’t help but burst out with “I love you,” she said, and he patted her jacket, one that she will never wash again: “I’m going to keep the jacket forever.”
Te said she felt the history in the rooms she toured, including ones that are normally off limits to the public, and took note of the china that Lincoln used and even the flowers painted on the wallpaper.
“You could see each brush stroke on the walls and that was wonderful,” Te said. “You could go up close and look at the wall paper and touch it, but I didn’t. I just didn’t want to disturb anything.”
“It was exciting to meet the other kids. Their projects are so amazing. We were exchanging ideas back and forth ... just a mixture of new ideas.”