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Bill Gates says fixing education system toughest challenge for his foundation

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LOS ALAMOS, N.M. - Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates says eradicating malaria, tuberculosis and polio is easier than fixing the United States' education system. But what he says he really wishes he could do is write a check to eliminate biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

Gates made the comments in a 45-minute talk Monday to a packed auditorium of employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Gates, his son Rory and a friend were in northern New Mexico for a private tour of the nation's premier nuclear weapons facility, which also does a wide-range of cutting-edge research across all fields, including an HIV vaccine, which the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation helps fund.

Gates, who had to fly in to Santa Fe because his personal plane was too big to land at Los Alamos, said he enjoyed the "great science, amazing history."

Obviously, he said, he loves science.

"It's the thing that makes the world interesting. ... It gives us a chance to save the world," he said.

Indeed, Gates and his wife are doing the best to use some of the multi-billion fortune to try to do just that, having established what is one of the world's largest foundations that has given away more than $30 billion.

In a nod to Microsoft's New Mexico roots, the invitation handed out to employees had a copy of Gates's business card naming him as president with an Albuquerque address. Gates and Paul Allen formed the company in the state's largest city in the mid-1970s but moved to Seattle area a few years later because it was too hard to recruit top programmers to Albuquerque.

Gates is still a technical adviser to Microsoft, but has turned his attention to the foundation. It's key areas of focus include lobal health and education.

Gates talked about his foundation's work improving and distributing vaccines across the world. But he says making advances in education is the foundation's hardest challenge.

"You name it, we have been passed by," Gates said of the country's math and science programs.

New technology to engage students holds some promise, but Gates says it tends to only benefit those who are motivated.

"And the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students," Gates said.

Asked if he saw more areas for collaboration at Los Alamos, Gates drew laughter when he responded that his foundation doesn't fund weapons. But he said non-proliferation is "super important," and that if he thought it would work, he would write a check to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

That, he said, would be his "one wish of managing science."

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