On the Discovery Channel every Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST, a new episode of “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius” airs. The show involves 10 contestants who are divided into teams each episode to tackle difficult engineering projects. It blends reality TV drama, where the contestants must deal with each other’s clashing personalities, with science that is explained in such a way that laypeople can understand.
According to the show’s host, Kal Penn—who played Dr. Lawrence Kutner on the TV series “House”— “The Big Brain Theory” wants to show people that America can remain the world’s center of innovation. It’s the home of many great inventions, from the light bulb to the iPhone. Contestant Tom Johnson has expressed a similar wish, hoping that the show will inspire another generation of innovators.
Each episode begins with a brief explanation of the challenge they must tackle. For instance, in the first episode, they must devise a means by which to reduce the amount of force exerted on a pickup truck’s cargo in a collision. Following this is the Blueprint Challenge, where each contestant has 30 minutes to come up with a plan for the task at hand. With nothing but an erasable pen and a big drawing board, contestants need to perform calculations and come up with an overall design that can solve the issue. One-by-one, the contestants present their ideas to the judges, who will pick a winner and a follow-up. These two individuals are the team captains for that week, and the captains then get to pick their teams.
With the teams in place, they have three days and $4,000 to turn their ideas into a reality. The teams have a time limit of 12 hours each day to work in the shop. While they can certainly go along with the initial idea conjured up during the Blueprint Challenge, they are in no way confined to it.
After the teams have used up their time, the grand moment comes when their creations are put to the test. Next, three judges will determine which contestant in the losing team deserves to be sent home. Judges Christine Gulbranson, a nanotechnologist and renewable energy innovator, and Mark Fuller, the CEO of WET, are part of each week’s episode, with a third guest judge making an appearance.
Before the judges make their decision, each member of the losing team explains who they think the “weakest link” of their group was and why. The judges then deliberate and the episode ends when the losing contestant is sent home.
Among the 10 contestants, only one can come out on top. As the series’ website explains, “The winner of the competition will earn $50,000 and a one year contract to work at WET.”
WET is “the industry leader behind some of the world’s most innovative water and fire-based designed environments,” such as the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas,Nev., according to the series’ website.
Full episodes of the show, biographies of the contestants and judges, weekly polls, viewer discussions and more can be found on the show’s website.
Detailed summaries of each episode will be posted on the Nvate website weekly.
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