Computer science student participates in White House science fair

Freshman computer science major Jordan Franssen was recognized by President Barack Obama at the White House Science Fair on Oct. 18. He and his three teammates from Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa., won both the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) in May and the Transatlantic Rocketry Challenge in June, finishing in first place from among 669 teams and giving them the title of best rocketry students in the world.

The White House Science Fair celebrated winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions. All participants were in high school or younger at the time of their competitions.

Franssen said the general idea of TARC was "to design, build and launch a rocket that reaches an exact height and is in the air for specific duration, all while carrying a raw egg, which must survive the flight."

Out of 669 teams across the United States and Virgin Islands, only 100 teams qualified to enter the national TARC competition in Manassas, Va.

"Competitors launch once, they are scored, and if they make it to the top 20 they launch again," Franssen explained. "The best combined score out of the top 20 wins the contest, and that was us."

After winning the TARC national competition, Franssen's team traveled to Farmborough, England to compete against winning teams from England and France at the Transatlantic Rocketry Challenge. They won there, too, making them the first U.S. team to win the international competition.

At the White House, Franssen said his team — which could only bring two team members to the fair — met President Obama and numerous other significant people.

"During the morning, we were visited by people ranging from NASA VIPs and heads to science-related departments of the government," Franssen explained. "Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Mythbusters showed up, as well."

Franssen said Obama walked around to each individual presentation and listened to what the participants had to say about their work. Other presentations included a way to treat cancer patients with a light-reactive chemical, a steering wheel that sets off an alarm when the driver lets go too long to prevent texting and a soccer-playing robot.

"He seemed like he was really interested in what everyone was doing. He made it around to us, and we told him about our rocket and how we won the competitions," Franssen explained. "He congratulated us and shook our hands."

After he visited each presentation, Obama spoke to students, science educators and business leaders about the importance of STEM education to the country's economic future.

Franssen, who has participated in TARC since eighth grade, said he is proud to be part of such a talented team. "It's an honor to be considered the best of the best."

More on the White House's science fair can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/10/18/president-obama-host-white-house-science-fair.

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Last Updated October 26, 2010