The Next MacGyver Finalists Pull From Many Genres

Earlier today the National Academy of Engineering and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering announced the 12 finalists in The Next MacGyver contest.  The 12 finalists will present their concepts for a television show focused on a female engineer at the Paley Center on July 28.  The five winners will receive $5000 and be paired with a television producer to help develop a script that could be pitched in Hollywood.

The 12 finalists (11 individuals and one team) were selected from nearly 2000 entries, and their concepts are inspired by MacGyver, but by no means are intended to copy the show, aside from showcasing a talented engineer (or engineers).  The proposed shows cover a variety of genres and time periods, and one would even break the proverbial fourth wall of television with a social media element to the program.  Sadly, if the concepts advanced here have the typical Hollywood chance, at most one of them *might* get a pilot.  That’s too bad.

Manhattan Project National Historic Park Is On Its Way

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

In late December Congress authorized the development of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (NHP).  The Park, which would be managed by the National Park Service (NPS) in conjunction with the Department of Energy, will be in three separate locations that were critical to the development of U.S. nuclear weapons capability:

  • Oak Ridge, Tennessee
  • Hanford, Washington
  • Los Alamos, New Mexico

While some units in the NPS are non-connected locations with a common theme (such as the various parks and monuments in Washington, D.C.), the Manhattan Project NHP will be the only one so spread out that you would really need to fly to see each location.

The Manhattan Project NHP is also unique due to the collaboration between the NPS and the Department of Energy, which still has active facilities in each of the three locations.  Having grown up near one of them, I can state that there are historical sites already open to the public, but a coordinated effort between the three locations and the two agencies should augment the opportunities to engage with that history.  The Atomic Heritage Foundation has done a lot of work in this area, and will be an important partner to this final push to make the Manhattan Project NHP a reality.

This NHP would be one of the few sites administered by the NPS engaged with technology of the 20th century.  While technology of the day factors into many NPS displays and presentations, it is not often the driving force behind a particular park, monument or historic site (the Thomas Edison NHP being an exception that comes to mind).  Perhaps in the coming decades we will see NASA collaborating with the NPS on a space-focused NHP spanning sites in Florida, Texas and California.

Per the enabling legislation, the NPS and the Energy Department are hard at work in developing a Memorandum of Understanding that would outline their respective responsibilities in managing the NHP.  This must be done by December 19th of this year, at which time the NHP becomes official.  This would end a process started back in 2001 and shepherded by countless numbers of people.  Thanks.

So, There Was This Week Of Making…

Happy Canada Day, everybody!

The U.S. held its first National Maker Faire on June 12 and 13 in Washington, D.C.  It was part of a week-long celebration of Making, which included a few other events of interest.

The Faire was well attended by federal agencies and senior leadership from the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  There was also a showcase of Makers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the White House announced commitments from several educational institutions to expand efforts to support makers at their institutions.  Companies, state and local governments have also announced commitments to support Makers.  A long list of the commitments announced is available online.

I was struck in particular by the commitments from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to help Makers in commercializing their products.  As you might have guessed, the USPTO will assist Makers in protecting their intellectual property (though some Makers may be more interested in Creative Commons-type limited rights).  NIST will help Makers through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).  The MEP has Centers set up to assist small and mid-sized manufacturers with business and technical assistance, and will make those same services available to Makers.  (There was likely nothing preventing Makers from doing this already, but the commitment should demonstrate an understanding of Making that may not have previously existed at the MEP.)


Science Culture Weekend: Artisanal Short From Spurlock, Campaign For Another Brinkman Rap Guide

Two brief notes to start the weekend:

Morgan Spurlock, a documentary filmmaker of note thanks to Super Size Me, has a short out on Amazon called Crafted.  You can rent or purchase it for less than your handcrafted coffee drink of choice.  The short features the work of artisans and makers – single-person or small operations where people craft a variety of things epitomizing a do-it-yourself ethos.

While the posts I’ve seen featuring the trailer try to set up a contrast between today’s maker’s (and their gadgets) and the artisans using tools and techniques handed down over centuries, I don’t see such a big gap between the two groups.  I’ve often emphasized that the study of technology (and technology policy) should not presume an emphasis on ‘high’ tech, ‘modern’ tech, or some other focus on the shiny and new.

In other news, funding work is afoot on the newest Rap Guide from Canadian rap artist Baba Brinkman.  Currently called Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, Brinkman and his frequent director Darren Lee Cole (of the SoHo Playhouse) are working to have the play ready for previews in July with an eye towards performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.  Cole has launched a fundraising drive on GoFundMe to help cover production costs.  Presumably there would be a run of some kind at the SoHo Playhouse after the run in Edinburgh, but there is no timeframe for that right now.

First National Maker Faire Starts Tomorrow

This Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13, the first National Maker Faire takes place on the University of the District of Columbia campus in Washington.  In addition to the participation of several federal agencies and makers from around the country, there are several presentations scheduled.  There will be screenings of the documentary film Maker, a showcase of makers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, demonstrations of specific maker projects and panels discussing the many different kinds of people that can and do engage in making.

The National Maker Faire is the start of the National Week of Making, which runs from the 12th through the 18th.  The White House will hold an event on Friday morning from 8:30-11:30 to kickoff the week, including announcements of the progress the Administration and its partners have made in various making-related initiatives.  This website (motivated by, if not officially affiliated with, the White House effort) tracks making events around the country, in case you want to get involved locally.

Ant-Man Wants Girls To Make Small Things

Following on similar contests in other Marvel films, there is a new competition for girls 14-18 (grades 9-12) connected to this summer’s Ant-Man movie (H/T The Mary Sue).  The contest deadline is June 11, so you don’t have much time.  Evangeline Lilly, who portrays scientist Hope Van Dyne in the film, explains the contest in a video.

The Ant-Man Micro-Tech Challenge wants contestants to “design and build a DIY project using at least one inexpensive and readily available micro-technology component of her choosing.”  It can be scientific, artistic, some combination of the two or something completely different.  In addition to the project, the contestant must submit a video of five minutes or less that explains how to make the project and answer this list of questions:

  1. What inspired your interest in micro-technology?
  2. What is your project?
  3. What is/are your micro-technology component(s)?
  4. What other major materials did you use? Where did you get them?
  5. How could your project be practically replicated in a school or club setting?
  6. How could building your project inspire other young girls to pursue interests in science, engineering, arts, or math? What skills would they learn?
  7. Why you would be interested in presenting a workshop that instructs young girls in your community on how to build your project?

Interested contestants need to fill out the application form and receive confirmation before submitting their video.  Winners will receive a trip to Los Angeles for them and a parent for the premiere of Ant-Man.  Instructions for making the winning projects will be distributed to a girls group in each winner’s community, and that winner will have the chance to lead a workshop on their project.

Show Some Love For the Science Rap Academy

I’ve posted about half of this year’s videos from the Science Rap Academy guided by rapper and educator Tom McFadden.  There are two I haven’t posted about that are worth at least as much love and sharing as the others.

Prey (Shake ’em Off) uses one of Taylor Swift’s more persistent earworms as the basis for explaining predator-prey relationships.

My personal favorite of this year’s crop is Proteins, probably because it builds off an even bigger earworm from Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.  That the ladies in the video have pipes certainly helps (though that’s true for Prey as well).

I’m not sure when the next edition of Science Rap Academy will run, but I doubt it will be soon enough.