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Lights, Cameras, Engineering: Jacobs School Students Dive into Reality TV

Big Spider Web

Jacobs School Ph.D. candidate Albert Lin was one of four enginnering students participanting in a Chasing Nature episode that used a spider web as inspiration.

February 1, 2006 -- Check your cable TV schedule. Seven UCSD engineering students and one alumnus are currently appearing in a 13-part reality series on the Animal Planet Network called Chasing Nature. The series, which was filmed in Australia, features top U.S. engineering students being challenged to recreate amazing animal behaviors.

“It’s actually quite hard to mimic an animal’s behavior and attributes, especially in just five working days,” said Chiara Daraio, a Ph.D. candidate in the Jacobs School of Engineering’s Materials Science and Engineering Program. “Mother Nature has taken some million years to get things straight.”

 CHASING NATURE Episode Schedule 
 orb-web spider Archer Fish big horn
The “Big Horn Ram” episode features four students, including Scott Anderson, a 2005 graduate of UCSD. The task of Anderson's team was to engineer a skull to protect a fragile glass brain in a 25 mph head-on impact. The team based two competing designs on the impact-absorbing skull structure of male bighorn sheep, which butt heads in vicious collisions during the mating season. Pairs of engineered skulls were attached to the front of dune buggies and crashed into one another.  “What I learned at UCSD definitely helped guide our design,” said Anderson. “I also took an acting class an undergrad and it helped me get through the long week of filming.”

albert lin
“I would absolutely love to do something like this again,” says Jacobs School Ph.D. candidate Albert Lin.

In each episode, four-student teams are given four or five days to build a physical model that, on a human scale, replicates an important animal characteristic or behavior.

While Daraio said she prefers research to reality TV, Albert Lin, a Ph.D. candidate in the Jacobs School of Engineering’s Materials Science and Engineering Program, relished his pressure-packed week of filming the "Golden Orb Web Spider" episode. “I would absolutely love to do something like this again,” he said.

Daraio said her least favorite part of being on a reality TV show was the constant filming. Lin agreed that performing as an engineer before cameras was demanding, but he said the staff were very appreciative. “Everyone involved, from the director to the camera crew, treated us like we were stars,” he said.

Lin stars in the "Golden Orb Web Spider" episode with fellow UCSD engineering graduate student Andrew Gapin and two engineering students from Duke University, Sophia Santillan and Matt Johannes. The Americans had to cope with more than the reversal of seasonal weather patterns in the Southern Hemisphere. “Driving on the left-hand side of the road was definitely interesting,” said Gapin. “I kept turning on the windshield wipers whenever I wanted to turn.”

scott anderson
UCSD alumnus Scott Anderson, class of 2005,  credits Jacobs School of Engineering professors for giving him insight into design problems his team faced in a Chasing Nature episode.
Also appearing in the series are three Ph.D. candidates in the Jacobs School's Materials Science and Engineering Program: Rita Finones, Joseph AuBuchon, and Smita J Pathak. Also participating is Shay Shmuel Har-Noy, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Finones was a high-flying stunt artist for two days during the filming of the "Archerfish" episode. “I enjoy shows such as Fear Factor, so this was a dream come true,” she said. “Reality TV is good fun. But, then again, as scientists and engineers, we ‘chase  nature’ every day. That's our job.”

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Media Contacts

Rex Graham
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-3075
rgraham@soe.ucsd.edu

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