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Spring/Summer 2015 Vol. 15 Number 1

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Inspiring a New Generation of Engineers

Many may recall the popular action-adventure TV series from the late '80s and early '90s that featured fictional government agent Angus MacGyver, who resourcefully used his engineering skills and everyday materials, often duct tape and a Swiss Army knife, to resolve sticky situations in each episode. Lee Zlotoff, the creator of the "MacGyver" series, joined the National Academy of Engineering and University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering in asking, "Can you out-MacGyver MacGyver?"

Launched in February at an event held during National Engineers Week, "The Next MacGyver" is a worldwide crowdsourcing competition seeking ideas for a scripted television show featuring a female engineer as the lead character. With the share of engineering bachelor's degrees earned by women in the U.S. in the last decade at just 19 percent, the project partners hope to change this trend. The principal goal of the competition is to inspire young people, especially girls, to pursue educations and careers in engineering, much like "MacGyver" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" increased interest in engineering and forensic science careers.

Lee Zlotoff at the February 2015 launch event for The Next MacGyver competition, photo by Cable Risdon

"I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said 'I became an engineer or I went into the sciences because of MacGyver,'" said Zlotoff.

The contest received about 1,800 submissions, from which five winners will be chosen. Each winner will receive $5,000 and be paired with Hollywood mentors who will help them to develop the female character and an engaging pilot script, and ultimately create viable concept packages for pitching to a network or distributor by the end of this year. Among the mentors are CEO and founder of Revelations Entertainment Lori McCreary, who is currently the executive producer of "Madam Secretary" on CBS; actress America Ferrera, best known for her leading role as Betty Suarez on the comedy-drama series "Ugly Betty" on ABC; Anthony E. Zuiker, creator and executive producer of the CSI franchise; and Roberto Orci, screenwriter and film and television producer, whose hit movies include "Star Trek" and "Transformers."

"We could not be more pleased to have some of Hollywood's top talent donating their time to develop compelling women engineer characters and bring them to life on the screen," said NAE President C.D. Mote Jr. "This contest provides a rare opportunity to tell a story of engineering and engineers that people practically never see."

-- Dana Korsen

This project is sponsored by the United Engineering Foundation. More information is available online at <>. A video of the contest launch event can be viewed online.

Prime Minister of Japan Speaks at NAS

National Academy of Sciences President Ralph J. Cicerone hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a breakfast meeting on April 30 with several U.S. leaders in the fields of science, engineering, and medicine. The meeting was co-hosted by Koji Omi, founder and chairman of the Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum, which holds a global conference of researchers, policymakers, and business leaders each year in Kyoto, Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with several U.S. leaders in the fields of science, engineering, and medicine, April 30, 2015, at the National Academy of Sciences, photo by Cable Risdon

"Japan should take advantage of its high level of science and technology to promote peace and prosperity, especially peace based on the principle of international cooperation," Abe told the gathering, adding that he believed innovation was the key to using science and technology to improve society. "I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on how U.S.-Japan cooperation in science and technology can expand and deliver benefits [to society]," he said.

In welcoming the prime minister, Cicerone echoed the global nature of today's research enterprise and the need for international cooperation to seek solutions to the world's most pressing problems. He remarked on many areas of cooperation between the NAS and researchers in Japan, including the STS forum. In particular, he highlighted the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, a decades-long partnership with Japan to study the long-term health effects of atomic bomb survivors. In addition, he noted the recent collaboration with the Science Council of Japan and the science academies of the other G7 countries on joint statements intended to call attention to certain science, technology, and health issues during the June G7 summit in Germany. Cicerone also acknowledged the cooperation that an Academies committee received from the Japanese government during its study of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

"These are the kinds of collaborations that are so critical -- not just for advancing science but for addressing our mutual interests in creating a better world," Cicerone said to Abe. "Mr. Prime Minister, we are looking forward to continuing our work with Japan's scientists, engineers, physicians, and other experts in the future."

Among the other attendees at the meeting were U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova, National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, and White House Office of Science and Technology Director John P. Holdren, as well as National Academy of Engineering Chair Charles O. Holliday Jr.

-- William Kearney

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