UC Davis multi-alumna Christine Gulbranson is bringing her talents to a new challenge starting today, May 1: She is one of two regular judges on a new reality TV show, “Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius” which begins an eight-week run on the Discovery Channel tonight.
Gulbranson said she hopes the show can help get young people excited about in careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
“In my experience, it was when I was working in a physics lab, doing things, that a lightbulb clicked on and I realized, ‘I can do this,'” she said.
“STEM is the core of American ingenuity. If we get kids to see that they can build something, that it is fun, sexy, and attainable, we can get them excited about it, and that’s what we need for our economic engine.”
Each week, the 10 contestants work in teams to solve a tricky engineering challenge. In the first episode, they have to come up with a way to stop explosives from detonating in a pair of colliding trucks. Later challenges include building a robot that can compete in athletic events and building a portable bunker to resist fire, storm and flood.
Gulbranson holds five degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor’s degree in physics; a bachelor’s, a master’s and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and materials science; and a MBA. She currently runs her own consulting firm, advising businesses, governments and startups especially in the areas of clean technology and renewable energy, “with a bit of nanotechnology sprinkled in,” she says.
Gulbranson said that judging the show drew on her educational background.
“There’s a lot of physics and a lot of mechanical engineering involved in these challenges and I definitely drew on that,” she said. “And of course my MBA, because a lot of it is about team dynamics, how they work together.”
“As a venture capitalist, you judge not just technology but people on a daily basis,” Gulbranson said.
Team dynamics are especially complicated in Big Brain Theory because of the way the show works. In most reality shows losing contestants leave the show each week. In Big Brain Theory, the contestants — who lived and worked together in near-isolation throughout the filming — remained on the show to help their teams, even after they were eliminated from winning the $50,000 prize.
It’s Gulbranson’s first experience with television, but not as a judge. She has previously acted as judge the Harvard Innovation Challenge, the Arab Technology Business Plan Competition and MIT’s Clean Energy Prize, among others.
Appearing as a guest judge in one episode is another UC Davis alumn, NASA engineer Adam Steltzner.
More about Christine Gulbranson on her web site: christinegulbranson.com
Video: Extended trailer