Broadcom MASTERS finalist becomes a MythBuster | Science News for Students

Broadcom MASTERS finalist becomes a MythBuster

Teen went from science competitions to new TV show
Jan 2, 2019 — 6:30 am EST
a photo of Rachel Pizzolato and Mythbusters host Adam Savage on set

Rachel Pizzolato and host Adam Savage share a laugh in the MythBusters workshop.

Science Channel

It was a day like any other when Rachel Pizzolato received a momentous phone call. Normally, her family wouldn’t answer a number they didn’t recognize. But on this day, they felt compelled to pick up. Little did they know this decision would change Rachel’s life.

“It was a talent scout for Beyond Productions,” recalls Rachel. Now 14, she’s a high school freshman at John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La. She came to the scout’s attention for having been a three-time competitor in Broadcom MASTERS. (MASTERS stands for Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars.) The program is a creation of Society for Science & the Public, which publishes Science News for Students. Broadcom Foundation, based in Newport Beach, Calif., sponsors the event.

a photo of the cast of Mythbusters Jr showing 6 teens and Adam Savage on set
Host Adam Savage poses with the cast of MythBusters, Jr.
photo courtesy of Science Channel

The talent scout invited Rachel to join the cast of a new Science Channel series. It’s an off-shoot of the popular MythBusters. The new show — MythBusters Jr. — launches this month. Recalls Rachel, “I was extremely excited about the possibility of being a MythBuster!”

Last summer, Rachel spent most days on the set of MythBusters Jr. in San Rafael, Calif. The main premise of the show is that researchers from different fields of STEM do tests to determine whether there’s any truth to various popular myths. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.)

The cast of the original MythBusters investigated a range of challenging claims. For instance: Could a penny falling from a skyscraper be fatal? Or could the ancient inventor Archimedes have constructed a working, weaponized laser? Executive producer Adam Savage hosts the new show. It follows much the same format as the original.

What’s new: Six young researchers, 12- to 15-years old, design and run tests in practical and entertaining ways. All have different backgrounds and experience. Among them: Twelve-year old Cannan Huey-You, who is already a college sophomore. He’s majoring not only in engineering but also in physics and astronomy. Young Elijah Horland is a self-taught electronics maker and programmer.

Becoming a role model

Throughout filming, Rachel had the opportunity to work closely with Adam Savage. He’s an engineer and special-effects expert with more than 20 years of experience. Some of his Hollywood credits include the 2002 hit, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and The Matrix Reloaded, which came out a year later.

“When it comes to Adam Savage, he is one of the best individuals that anyone can ask to have as a mentor,” says Rachel. “He has years of practical experience, not only in engineering and fabrication, but in television production and public speaking. He is a wealth of knowledge.” Concludes Rachel: “I am fortunate to be able to call him my friend.”

Through her work on the show, Rachel hopes to be seen as a STEM advocate for those younger than herself. “Many young kids do not have STEM-related role models,” she says. “I can be that role model by encouraging their work and offering a bit of advice.” When asked about mentoring younger kids, Rachel says: “I can’t begin to tell you just how wonderful it is to see the eyes of those kids light up when they know that they are important to someone. It is the best feeling ever!”

Rachel participated in Broadcom MASTERS from 2016 to 2018. She was a finalist in 2016 and 2017, and in 2018 she was named a MASTERS Top 300. Her projects in the MASTERS competitions all focused on modifying wind turbines to make them more efficient.

Competing in Broadcom MASTERS taught Rachel that research was not just about awards. “It was about being a part of a team and making new friendships with people who have the same interests as you.” And the teamwork skills she developed certainly helped during her time on MythBusters Jr.

When not on set, Rachel and her fellow cast members had fun and made memories hanging out. Rachel recalls all the MythBusters and their parents listening to Adam at the end of the first day about “how we are all now one big family.” And, the teen says, “From that day on, I really felt like I was part of an amazing family.”

Rachel aspires to one day study aeronautical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge. But research is far from her only interest. She also hopes to compete in the women's trampoline event at the Olympics.

You can watch Rachel and other teens in MythBusters Jr. starting Wednesday, January 2, on the Science Channel.

Power Words

(more about Power Words)

annual     Adjective for something that happens every year. (in botany) A plant that lives only one year, so it usually has a showy flower and produces many seeds.

astronomy     The area of science that deals with celestial objects, space and the physical universe. People who work in this field are called astronomers.

Broadcom MASTERS     Created in 2011 by the Society for Science & the Public, Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering Rising Stars) is the premier middle school science and engineering fair competition. Broadcom MASTERS International gives select middle school students from around the world a unique opportunity to attend the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair.

electronics     Devices that are powered by electricity but whose properties are controlled by the semiconductors or other circuitry that channel or gate the movement of electric charges.

engineer     A person who uses science to solve problems. As a verb, to engineer means to design a device, material or process that will solve some problem or unmet need.

engineering     The field of research that uses math and science to solve practical problems.

fabrication     (v. fabricating) Some physical product hat has been manufactured or produced somehow. Or a statement or claim that has been invented; a lie.

factor     Something that plays a role in a particular condition or event; a contributor.

field     An area of study, as in: Her field of research was biology. Also a term to describe a real-world environment in which some research is conducted, such as at sea, in a forest, on a mountaintop or on a city street. It is the opposite of an artificial setting, such as a research laboratory.

laser     A device that generates an intense beam of coherent light of a single color. Lasers are used in drilling and cutting, alignment and guidance, in data storage and in surgery.

mentor     An individual who lends his or her experience to advise someone starting out in a field. In science, teachers or researchers often mentor students or younger scientists by helping them to refine their research questions. Mentors also can offer feedback on how young investigators prepare to conduct research or interpret their data.

physics     The scientific study of the nature and properties of matter and energy. Classical physics is an explanation of the nature and properties of matter and energy that relies on descriptions such as Newton’s laws of motion. Quantum physics, a field of study that emerged later, is a more accurate way of explaining the motions and behavior of matter. A scientist who works in such areas is known as a physicist.

range     The full extent or distribution of something. For instance, a plant or animal’s range is the area over which it naturally exists.

STEM     An acronym (abbreviation made using the first letters of a term) for science, technology, engineering and math.

technology     The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry — or the devices, processes and systems that result from those efforts.

wind turbine     A wind-powered device — similar to the type used to mill grain (windmills) long ago — used to generate electricity.