If you look up the term “geek girl” in the dictionary, you’re likely to see a picture of the lovely and talented Kari Byron (from the Mythbusters Build Team) next to the entry.
Byron came to the attention of geeky fans in 2003 as part of the Build Team on the new Discovery Channel show hosted by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman aimed at proving urban myths either “true” or “busted” using scientific experiments to do so. Her first day as a paid employee at M5 Industries (Hyneman’s San Francisco special effects studio) happened also to be the first day of Mythbusters filming, she was asked to help dispel the “vacuum plane toilet” myth by modeling her bum for a cast used in the experiment.
Since then, Byron has gone onto securing herself a larger role in the show and is about to become the host of her very own show on the Science Network: Head Rush. She is appearing at Comic Con this weekend in support of the show (which is targeted at middle school aged kids in the hope of engaging them in math and science) which premiers on August 23, 2010. We were lucky enough to catch up with her this morning for a quick interview:
I was interested to learn that you got your Mythbusters gig by showing up at M5 and asking for an internship over and over.
Pretty much. I didn’t have to ask too many times, it was back when M5 was just a special effects company, it wasn’t Mythbusters. I just told Jamie I would work for free, I was just going to take as long as it took until something happened and slowly I just became more and more of the build team. I was just really lucky that my first day was the first day of Mythbusters. It was just kind of the start of the line for me…
That’s pretty cool! What kind of experience did you have prior to Mythbusters that drove you to want to intern with M5?
Ever since I saw the Making of Thriller when I was young, I always wanted to do something in that field, because I thought it was so cool that I could grow up and do that kind of thing. So I got really into sculpture, I’d go really crazy on Halloween, I’d have the really big haunted houses in front of my house… My parents probably never thought that I was going turn that into a career, they’re probably pretty happy about that. The sculpture thing, I kept that as part of my life for a really long time, even when I was a receptionist I was doing sculptures underneath my desk in between phone calls. Then I heard about Jamie’s shop, my friend had been there and said “Oh my gosh, you’ve got to see this place!” And, I walked in the door and I was just like “Wow – I want to learn how to use all of these tools!”
So, the next day I showed up with – I have to say, not the best portfolio, because I was making stuff to put in the portfolio the night before – and, he was nice enough to give me a chance.
Of course, from there you got onto the Mythbusters Build Team, which has increased in popularity.
Do you have any plans to exhibit your sculpture in the future?
The Mythbusters and Head Rush and some of my other projects on the Science Channel have become pretty full time. I still do sculpture at home, but I’m a new mom…
Yes! We heard, congratulations!
So there is a finite amount of time that I get to do sculpture, so I kind of just do it for me right now.
That’s cool, I get that, I’m a writer and I write for just me sometimes and don’t share it with other people. Aside from Mythbusters and Head Rush and the coolness of just being at Comic Con, what is the one thing at Comic Con you are super super excited about?
Oh my god…
The person you’re excited about meeting or the panel you’re excited about attending?
I really didn’t know what to expect! This is so much bigger and crazier and fuller of interesting people than I ever expected, I kind of want to go get a mask and just walk around the floor for a while just to get to see it. I haven’t really been able to walk down there, because I’m always signing autographs and talking to people… So at some point today I think I’m just going to go find a hood and a mask and really just walk around.
What kinds of things do you geek out to in your normal every day life?
When I was pregnant I really got into a few TV shows. I really love Dexter!
I freakin’ love that! I watched every episode back-to-back when I was going into labor. I was in labor for 42 hours, so I just watched every single episode and now I’m totally into it.
The big news is that you’re premiering a show on the Science Channel, Head Rush – which is targeted at middle school kids, girls in particular – which I think is really great. Can you tell us about the project and what we can expect from it? Is it like Mr. Wizard meets Bill Nye the Science Guy, hosted by the lovely and talented Kari Byron?
A little bit like that, but a little more YouTube, MTV pop-culture-ish, for kids now. The project is completely commercial free, it’s part of the STEM initiative (Science Technology Engineering Math), part of the intiative that Obama is pushing. So Discovery partnered up with the White House to create this one hour time slot between four and five pm, when kids come home from school they’ll have this programming to keep the mind still going. And, maybe get intrigued by really interesting little facts about science, because it’s not just all the textbook things that you and I probably read when we were in school. There are just so many interesting little curiosities in life, science is everywhere, and we’re trying to peak an interest anywhere we can – because if we can just peak it kids can keep going with it.
And, that premiers on the 23rd of August on the Science Channel. Can you give us any spoilers or teasers about what you’re going to be taking on first?
We’re taking Mythbuster episodes, we’re taking out all the commercials – the commercial spots are where we’ll have Head Rush, we’ll have small experiments and lots of clips from all the different Discovery stations. We’re going to incorporate them into quizzes so that at the beginning of the episode we’ll ask a question about one of our experiments and [the viewer] has to figure out, “Well if we shrink this balloon in liquid nitrogen, what’s going to happen when it un-shrinks?” I’m hoping it’s going to be really, really fun.
We’re excited to watch it! I’ll watch it, I’m not ashamed to admit it, I watch kids programming!
I think we’re just targetting who I was at 12 years old. If you think about role models you’re not going to think about geeky scientist guy in the white coat, you don’t want to be that, you know? All the girls want to be an heiress or a rock star. We’re hoping to create more role models that are in the sciences, get people onto the show who can be role models.
So, this is the question I ask everyone: Do you have advice for young women who would like to enter into the profession you currently work in or have a lifestyle similar to yours? Is there one piece of advice you’d share that you think is really, really important?
I think the way that I go into this: internships. People are always willing to let you work for free.
If you can prove yourself there’s a good chance you’ll become a part of whatever you set out to be.
[Stay tuned to Geek Girl on the Street and GirlyGeekdom to learn how you can win some sweet Mythbusters and Head Rush schwag!]