Most of the time graduate students have a plan. They’ll get their feet wet in research, work under a distinguished professor, and eventually move on to hands-on work in their industry. Mike North didn’t have a plan when he was working toward his PhD in materials science and engineering at UCSB a few years back. “It was a top-notch program,” he said, “and I just really loved the research.”
Fortunately for him, his path was about to present itself. While working on post doctorate research, North was contacted by the Discovery Channel. The longtime purveyor of educational entertainment had a very intriguing proposition for him: to become a part of a new show that directly related to the fields of study he was involved in at UCSB. “It happened at the magic moment. I was looking for something dynamic and fun,” North recalled. As simply as that, he landed the spot.
The show in question was Prototype This, a mix of brainstorming, inventing, and the latest in engineering technology. The “prototeam” consists of North, electrical engineer Joe Grand, special effects technician Terry Sandin, and robotics whiz Zoz Brooks. Each week the team takes on a new task, whether it is solving a day-to-day problem or just plain pushing the limits of modern invention. Either way, one thing is certain, the team is going to create one awesome prototype to get the job done.
“The show captures the spirit of invention,” said North. This isn’t a big surprise, considering the cast members each bring a different kind of spirit to the table. It is just as entertaining to watch their interactions with each other, as it is to watch the week’s technological creation.
What North really hopes to accomplish with Prototype This is to reintroduce the world of science to the public. “I would really hope to reach out to kids,” he said. “I want them to see that science isn’t just about putting on a white lab coat – it’s about putting a pizza on a centrifuge, to see which toppings slide off first.” He also stresses the dual audiences this show can reach. Both avid and novice scientist viewers alike can find entertainment in the show. “It may seem like a rigorously structured thing, but being able to be creative in this field is amazing,” North said.
The world of TV stardom has not taken North too far away from his roots, however. He said his alma mater is never too far from his mind. “Santa Barbara is just absolutely amazing,” he said. “I love all the nature. I spent a lot of time in the mountains.” When he finally gets some time away from his newfound fame, North would love to come and speak at UCSB, and reach out even more directly to students considering a career in the science field.
Prototype This airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.