Fashioning the Future With: Rachel Pizzolato
Stampeding sweet potatoes, we've got a Mythbuster on the blog! That's right, it's Rachel Pizzolato, a.k.a. BEAUTY & BRAINS with a Twist, and she's here to tell us what it's like to be a fourteen-year-old award-winning scientist, gymnast, pageant queen, model, and, yep, a star of the forthcoming Mythbusters Jr. series.
Premiering in late 2018 on Discovery's Science Channel, Mythbusters Jr. will feature six young scientists alongside host Adam Savage. Together, these rad STEM advocates will test all kinds of myths—just like on the original show. Rachel Pizzolato, fifteen-year-old Valerie Castillo, and thirteen-year-old Allie Weber are the three female teen Mythbusters. Watch out, myths, BEAUTY & BRAINS with a Twist and her friends are coming for ya!
We were thrilled to interview Rachel for the Style Engineers Worldwide Blog. Check out her Q&A to learn about her scientific research, her hopes for the Olympics, Rachel's compelling advice for other young women in STEM, and much more! Rachel Pizzolato is fashioning the future…with her own awesome twist.
But that's not all; Rachel's role on Mythbusters Jr. is just the tip of an iceberg made up of ridiculously cool accomplishments. Rachel is a Broadcom MASTERS National Science Fair Top 30 Finalist (a few times over!), a USAG Level 8 National Trampoline Champion, and MIT even recently named a minor planet after her. Out there in space, (33187) Pizzolato = 1998FD36 orbits with Rachel's name on it! Oh yeah, Rachel is also 2018's Pre-Teen Miss Louisiana State. Wanna be even more impressed? Check out Rachel's awesome list of accolades here.
When did you first know that you were a scientist?
I think the exact moment was when I was sitting down at a banquet table during the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS awards ceremony with the founder of Broadcom, Henry Samueli. We were having a conversation about science experiments, and I remember the words he told me so vividly. He said that the little projects we do along our journey through life are extremely important, and we might not know where those projects may lead us until later in life. He told me to never downplay my research and keep track of it because it could potentially be THE KEY to future success. Those words made me feel that he considered my research important, and it made me feel like I truly was part of the scientific community.
What is your favorite STEM subject?
My favorite STEM subject is Science—more specifically, a field of physics called Fluid Dynamics. My research focuses not only on finding alternative ways of using a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) to generate electricity, but more importantly, designing highly efficient prototype wind turbine designs. Because the wind behaves like a fluid, fluid dynamics comes heavily into play when I design my turbines. Bernoulli’s Principle, the Venturi Effect, and the Magnus Effect are very important aspects of fluid dynamics that can play major roles in extracting the most energy from a prototypical design, and I attempted to maximize the efficiency of each turbine by exploiting those principles.
I also enjoy biology which has a direct influence on some of my designs. How so, you might ask? Well, I utilize biomimicry in the designs for the turbine blades. Biomimicry is the use of what nature has designed, over millions and possibly billions of years, and incorporating that technology into prototypical designs in an attempt to increase efficiency. My goal is to eliminate humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels by developing highly efficient renewable energy sources!!
How did you get into beauty pageants and how many have you been in?
I started taking dance lessons at about 3 years old and absolutely loved performing on stage. When I was 6 years old, we met a photographer who told me that I should try to do a beauty pageant. I never even thought about doing something like that, but when I first stepped on that stage, I was hooked!!! From that moment on, I dreamed of being Miss USA.
It has been almost nine years since that first pageant, and my desire to be Miss USA has only gotten stronger. For many years, I competed every weekend, and sometimes multiple times per week. In the past 2 years, the average has been about 8-10 pageants per year. In total, I have competed in roughly 300 pageants since that very first pageant. My recent titles include 2018 Pre-Teen Miss New Orleans, 2018 Pre-Teen Miss Louisiana State, and 2018 Pre-Teen Miss Greater Gulf Coast (Grand Supreme).
What is your favorite thing about pageantry?
Since I was a baby, my parents have taken the family on annual trips to Disney World. I can remember looking at the princesses and thinking, “I want to be a princess, too!” I could not wait to stand next to them in my favorite princess costume to take pictures — all the time dreaming about being a princess just like them. For me, those pageants have been like dreams come true, and I enjoy the glitz and the spectacle of each and every one. Over the last couple of years, I have had many little girls come to take pictures with me because they want to be in the picture with a princess.
I can’t even begin to tell you how special that makes me feel. It is like the whole process has come full circle, and it is my turn to see the glimmer in those little eyes that I once had all those years ago!
What is your favorite sport?
Gymnastics is my absolute favorite sport, and I specialize in the trampoline. I have been competing in gymnastics for about 8 years, and for the last 2 years, I have been focused exclusively on trampoline. My training consists of 2-4 hours per day for 4-6 days per week, and I compete at many meets throughout the year. I am a member of the Elmwood Gymnastics Tumbling and Trampoline Team. Being part of a team and having someone to share your successes and failures with is so very important, and I am glad that I am part of such a successful program. We have fun learning new skills while we train together, and we can relate to each other because of the drive and desire to be the best that is in all of us. I love practicing, and I have dreams of representing the United States at the Olympics in 2024 and 2028.
What advice do you have for girls who have been told that you can’t be a beauty queen and a scientist?
This question is a hot topic for me, and I am so glad that you asked. First, I would tell them that in the grand scheme of things, we are here on this earth for only a short time, and we get this amazing chance to be part of life and every second is so very precious—So…..GO FOR IT!!!
I would tell them…….Wait...let me rephrase that….. I am telling them that, “Nothing is impossible!” Never let negativity decide what they should do. I would emphasize that they are individuals with dreams and desires that are their own, and they must cultivate those dreams and see where they take them. Do not let negativity dictate where their abilities can ultimately lead them! Don’t let stereotypes rule their decisions! Break those molds that have been forged, over so many years, and reach for the stars!!! Their potential is only limited by their imagination and drive to succeed. I want to encourage them to be open about their dreams and to talk to their parents, teachers, and friends.
Also, it is important that they take the opportunities that are given to them, at every level, to get involved with theater, art, and science. Technology is improving every day, and it is important for young minds to be exposed to new and exciting fields of study. Who knows when the next Einstein might emerge?
How do you manage your time since you are committed to and excel at so many things from STEM to pageantry to athletics?
I have been asked that question many times, and the best way I can answer it is that it is like a well-rehearsed juggling act. I always have all my books and gymnastics gear with me, and I utilize my travel time between school, training, and competitions to do homework, research, and even catch up on some sleep. It sure does help that I am able to fall to sleep at the drop of a hat!!
One of the main reasons I can do so many things is because I try to plan out everything and budget my time each day. Also, I try not to procrastinate, and I always start projects as soon as I get them because you never know what might creep up in the future.
For instance, I used my free time during the Mythbusters Jr. shoot to outline and plan for the upcoming 2018 science fair. The first thing I usually do is make an outline and fill it in as I gather inspiration. I already have the title, hypothesis, materials, procedure, and some research for this year’s project. So, I am a bit ahead of the game for the 2018 science fair. That will allow me to work consistently, order materials, and have a plan each day once the school year starts, so that I can finish without feeling rushed.
It is truly a team effort to get all the things that I do coordinated, and I am extremely lucky to have very supportive parents, teachers, and friends. Quite a bit of the logistics is handled by my parents, and they are always on top of where I need to be—at any given moment. They always encourage me to focus on the task at hand, so that I can do my absolute best.
What is your ideal career path?
As far as academics are concerned, I dream of attending MIT and becoming an aeronautical engineer. The power of flight, and the technology that allows us to fly, mesmerizes me! Working for NASA, as a rocket scientist, has always been part of my long-term plans.
I am currently designing prototype wind turbines and want to continue improving the designs by incorporating biomimicry into new prototypes. By utilizing tubercles (bumps on humpback whale fins) and nanoparticles into my designs, I have shown that it is possible to significantly improve turbine efficiency. This year, I am focusing on using vortex generators to attempt to improve laminar flow and boundary layer separation in a venturi, and to determine the effect of vortex generators on wind turbine efficiency.
There are so many possibilities in the fields of energy, and I want to be a driving force in eliminating the use of fossil fuels as our source of energy that powers the planet.
What is your favorite thing about being a Mythbuster on Mythbusters Jr.?
For me, being a part of such an iconic brand like Mythbusters has just started to sink in. When I first heard about the possibility of doing the series, I was completely overwhelmed. I could not believe that it was going to come true. However, it did come true, and the moment I set foot in the studio, I knew that this was going to be an experience of a lifetime!
It has been about 3 months since we began filming, but from the very beginning, I have felt that we are part of a big family and could not imagine working with a better group of individuals. The attention to detail, by everyone involved in the production of the show, is impeccable!
Over the course of shooting the series, I have learned so many new and interesting things, and made many wonderful friends. This summer has been the best one ever, and I don’t want it to end! Oh! Did I mention that we get to blow things up?
What advice do you have for girls your age or younger who want to get into STEM?
Be curious! Be creative! Be inquisitive! Most importantly, I would encourage everyone to start early on their projects and ideas. Do not procrastinate! Always shoot for the stars and remember that failure is a good thing! Hard to believe I would say that failing is good, but it is! When we work hard and fail at something, we have the chance to investigate why and how that process failed. It gives us an opportunity to make changes and create a better product than what we had before.
I would encourage them to learn from their mistakes and keep good notes for all their research—journals are extremely important! Learning to perform the scientific method—correctly—is an important step when doing research. Also, accuracy and precision are very important, and it allows you to be much more confident in the repeatability of your results. I would emphasize that it is important to put every effort into making each step of a project the best it can be. In that way, the final outcome will be something that can be displayed proudly knowing that you gave it your absolute best effort.
Do you have any favorite science-related characters in books/movies/other art forms?
I recently created my first comic book hero named FUSION! He might be my go-to guy in a few years; however, I would have to lean towards a real-life character to answer this question. I was asked a question quite similar to this about 2 years ago when I applied to the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS national science competition, and my answer is still the same. Although he is a real-life character, the deeds that I wanted to experience with him, on the fantastic journey that I dreamed about, are quite extraordinary!
Here it goes! I would love to sit on the edge of a black hole with Stephen Hawking. You heard that correctly! Right on the very edge of that magnificent beast!! I first heard Stephen’s voice when I was a very small child. It was the computer-generated voice that was featured in the Pink Floyd song called "Keep Talking." I remember hearing that voice quite vividly while listening to that Pink Floyd song with my dad.
My dad has always tried to encourage, and expand, my appreciation for music and the arts, and since I was a baby, I have been listening to classical music, especially to Beethoven. Also, we rarely miss a rock concert—Def Leppard, Styxx, Aerosmith, Rush, and recently, Peter Frampton, and the Steve Miller Band—I have seen them all many times. However, "Keep Talking" caught my attention because of the way the voice sounded towards the end of the song. My dad explained who the voice belonged to, and he started to teach me some of the principles that Stephen Hawking discovered about black holes.
Since then, I have been captivated and continue to work to understand the theories that Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Sir Isaac Newton have put forth. I used to look at Stephen Hawking as most kids would look at him. At first, I saw a frail man in a wheelchair, and I did not see the genius who was sitting before me. I did not understand that he was one of the most intelligent men in the world—now, I do!! I have so much respect for the man who championed the idea of a singularity and the Big Bang.
It would be one of the most amazing experiences to sit on the edge of a black hole and watch as the universe performs its wonders. I can only imagine the smile on Stephen Hawking’s face, as we sit there, on the event horizon, and watch in awe, as the wonders of The Universe unravel right before our eyes!!
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
I would go with something that is—not only highly technological—but also very fashionable. I feel that having an invisibility cloak, that would allow me to travel completely undetected, would enable me to level the playing field against the most menacing villains. Also, when I am not traveling the world as a superhero, I would be able to cut a fine figure! I just adore being dressed to kill!!