WASHINGTON – Before he presented his Extreme Marshmallow Cannon at the White House on Tuesday, staffers urged 14-year-old Joe Hudy of Phoenix not to encourage President Obama.
But when the commander in chief asks to fire your science project, “You really can’t say no,” Joe said.
That’s how the eighth-grader from Canyon Springs School found himself blasting marshmallows across the State Dining Room on Tuesday as part of the administration’s second annual White House science fair.
“The Secret Service is going to be mad at me about this,” said Obama, who asked reporters to step aside before helping pump up the cannon and then letting Joe fire his invention, which can shoot the sweet snacks as far as 176 feet.
Joe was the first of 100 students from around the country to present his inventions to Obama at the second science fair, an occasion the president used to recognize academic achievement as well as announce new education initiatives, including a call to train more science and math teachers.
“I didn’t really picture I would end up like this, so I thought it was pretty amazing,” said Joe, who described his visit with the president as both “kind of scary and fun at the same time.”
Joe, whose marshmallow cannon is taller than he is, was invited to the event after winning two editors’ choice awards from Maker Faire, which bills itself as the world’s largest do-it-yourself festival.
“It was just amazing that the whole thing was even happening,” said Joe’s mom, Julie, who watching on line from a building next to the White House as her son showed his work to the president. “I think it’ll take a couple of days to really realize that it happened.”
She said Joe has been building and taking things apart his entire life, but she never thought his work would get him to the White House. Joe, who speaks in short sentences, wasn’t shy about expressing his excitement about the trip. He thought his parents were pranking him when they told him the president wanted to meet him.
“At first I thought my parents were lying to me,” he said. “But then further on I realized, ‘Oh jeez, it’s real.’”
It was Joe’s his first visit to the nation’s capital. After their White House visit, the Hudys went to Capitol Hill to meet with Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix.
Besides the cannon, Joe also displayed his LED Cube Microcontroller Shield at the White House event. He sells the cubes – which can be programmed to light up in various different patterns – online through a small business he started called Look What Joey’s Making. His parents handle the company’s finances, but all the money goes back to funding Joe’s projects and trips to more Maker Faires.
For his next invention, Joe said he plans to build an electro-luminescent wire shield – or a wire that lights up. Picture the lights on a Tron suit, said one of the people traveling with Joe.
“I’ve always liked doing electronics,” said Joe, whose dream is to be an electrical engineer when he grows up.
“He already is my engineer,” his mother said.
But it was compressed air, not electronics, that captured Obama’s attention Tuesday.
As they watched Joe and the president pump the cannon, Julie Hudy said she and her husband grew nervous.
“All I kept thinking was, ‘The chandelier is going to break,’” she said. “That part was a little nerve-racking.”
The marshmallow shot across the State Dining Room, but hit a wall safely – though it narrowly missed a window.
“It was a blast,” Joe said. “I was not expecting that.”