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.
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.