Washington, D.C. – President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union Address called on Americans to work together to lead the world through “a time of extraordinary change,”  including scientific examples like medical breakthroughs and energy initiatives.

It is “change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world,” Obama said during his speech on 12 January 2016 at the United States Capitol.

Obama touted various science policy initiatives throughout his presidency, from technology to climate change to medicine, and called for stronger initiatives to ensure the U.S. is at the forefront of scientific discovery.


Obama championed the bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind, and emphasized the need to offer “every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.”


Obama referenced four big questions during his State of the Union, covering equality, technology, national security and political aspirations.

“How do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?” Obama asked.

He recalled when the Russians beat the U.S. into space with Sputnik. “We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon,” he said.

He mentioned famous American scientists like inventor Thomas Edison, aviation duo the Wright Brothers, agricultural scientist George Washington Carver,  computer programmer Grace Hopper,  space scientist Katherine Johnson and astronaut Sally Ride as people who embody the “spirit of discovery.”


Obama announced a new national effort to cure cancer. “Last month, [Vice President Joseph Biden] worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institute of Health the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade,” he said. “I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.”

Climate Change

Obama likened the importance of medical research to clean energy research.

“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it,” he said.

He talked about the U.S.’s investment in clean energy seven years ago and shared the results.

“In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average,” Obama said.

He emphasized the need to shift away from “dirty energy” by changing the way oil and coal resources are managed “so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” he said.

The future

After acknowledging that change is difficult, Obama ended on a positive note about the future.

“Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen — inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far,” he said.

“I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease,” Obama said.

President Barack Obama and his Cabinet members during a reception in the Blue Room of the White House after his State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2016. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow