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Latina robotics wiz stars in Science Channel’s ‘MythBusters Jr’

posted December 15, 2018 | in Pop Cultura by Christine Bolaños

Explosives, drills and duct tape.

These activities and tools have become synonymous with the Science Channel’s “MythBusters,” a documentary show in which two Hollywood special effects experts try to disprove urban myths and legends by physically testing them out.

Now the franchise is readying for the premiere of its latest addition: MythBusters Jr. Debuting in January 2019, the 10-episode series will give six of the country’s smartest children and teenagers the chance to disprove the myths that have become ingrained in culture. Among the group is 15-year-old Valerie Castillo, a Latina from California, who is a skilled builder and robotics wiz.

Duct Tape Valerie. Courtesy of the Mythbusters Jr team.

She is experienced in Computer-aided design (CAD) drawing and 3-dimensional printing. In 2017, Castillo was the team leader of her school’s robotics team, which won the state championship. That victory qualified them to participate in the World’s VEX Robotics Competition.

Castillo and her project partner recently earned first place in their school’s science fair. They moved on to the district-wide fair where their project earned second place.

On the show, Castillo is accompanied by 12-year old Elijah Horland, a self-taught electronics maker, programmer and circuit wiz from New York; Cannan Huey-You, a 12-year-old college sophomore studying astrophysics at Texas Christian University; Jesse Lawless, a 15-year-old custom hot rods builder from Louisiana; 14-year-old Rachel Pizzolato, a three-time New Orleans Science Fair champion; and Allie Weber, a 13-year-old maker, builder and inventor from South Dakota.

Original show host Adam Savage will serve as their coach as they show off their ingenuity and skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) to try to debunk myths ranging from driving and explosions to movies and popular culture.

MythBusters Jr is essentially its Emmy-nominated predecessor, only this time it’s the kids leading the way. They’ll build a fire extinguisher jetpack, work with dominos large enough to crush a car and test myths from the Academy Award-winning Hollywood flick Gravity and AMC television series Breaking Bad.

The junior MythBusters will explore whether they can make a functioning, life-saving parachute and a serviceable car from Duct Tape.

“These junior MythBusters are amazing. And while they’re kids, the myths we take on are as full-size and as explosive as ever,” said Adam Savage in a statement. “We’ve created an incredible 10-episode season in which these new MythBusters put their remarkable intelligence and creativity to the test.”

Valerie Castillo. Courtesy of the Mythbusters Jr team.

Latinitas recently had a chance to speak with Castillo about her time on set. Here’s what she had to say.

Latinitas: How old were you when you first got interested in STEAM and robotics?

Castillo: I first got interested in STEAM in the 7th grade. I’m a sophomore in high school now.

Latinitas: Was there an ‘aha’ moment for you when you knew you wanted to pursue robotics further?

Castillo: I tried out for my school’s robotics team in 7th grade on my mom’s encouragement. I got in, and once in, I realized that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I love it.

Latinitas: You were the team leader of your school’s robotics team that won the state championship. What was that like for you and what did it take to get there?

Castillo: It was amazing because I got to travel with my team to Louisville, Kentucky. We had long practices after school. We had to wake up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to go to the competition. I mean it’s a lot of work. You need to put in 110 percent.

Latinitas: What exactly was your team’s robotics project?

Castillo: My team is associated with VEX Robotics Competition and every year they bring out a new game that you’re supposed to design your robot to. That year it was called Starstruck and the object of the game was to put stars into, like throw them over a fence in the middle of the field, and putting on some poles on the corner of it.

VEX has different games each year and each year you have to design your robot differently.

Latinitas: Working on this project probably took not just brains but serious teamwork. What did you learn from this experience?

Castillo: The main thing would be how to work with others. We were all valued robotics members on our team. Our views mattered. It took serious teamwork and collaboration. Being the team captain, I learned about leadership skills and just being part of the team.

Latinitas: How did the opportunity to join the Mythbusters Jr show come about?

Castillo: It was the summer (before) I was going into high school when my middle school principal called me and told me this production is looking for kids who are interested in STEAM. I looked into it and thought, ‘OK, I’ll try out for it.’ The company sent over some paperwork, did some Skype interviews and, more or less three months after, I got an email that said I was selected.

Latinitas: Did you audition or do anything else to be brought onto the show?

Castillo: It was a lot of interviews. I don’t know many kids applied. After the first interview, they would start eliminating people. By the third round, they maybe had 10 kids, and then they chose the final people who got the job.

Latinitas: What was that moment like for you?

Castillo: It was funny because I didn’t get that email until 10 at night. I was already asleep, and my mom came into my room to wake me up. She said, ‘Valerie, Valerie, you got the job!’

I was mostly kind of confused because I had just woken up. I’m so blessed to have this opportunity and am super excited. I felt like I was in a dream.

Latinitas: How long were you filming?

Castillo: Filming took about three months.

Latinitas: You’ve worked with teams before but not on a TV show. How was this experience different from what you’ve done before?

Castillo: Aside from blowing things up on a regular schedule, it wasn’t really like the robotics team. In the robotics team we all had similar backgrounds but here, we all had very, very different backgrounds. Something that I had a weakness in, one of my other costars (could tackle that).  It was really nice to have someone support you in what you needed and to support them in what they needed.

Latinitas: What was the most challenging part of being on the show?

Castillo: Learning how to talk on the camera. I told myself I never wanted to involve myself with anything in the film industry.

Latinitas: What was the best part of being on the show?

Castillo: Everybody I was surrounded with every day. You had the legend, Adam Savage, with all five of my costars, and the whole crew. Really, they’re just so positive and bring great ideas to the table all the time. That’s the thing I miss most about not being on set anymore. I believe we stopped filming the first week of August.

Latinitas: Can you share anything as far as what we should expect or look forward to from the show?

Castillo: In one of my favorite episodes we were testing out whether a human could run across a giant glue trap. We tried it, and the process (of testing it out) was probably one of the funniest moments ever.

Latinitas: How did you balance filming with school work?

Castillo: It was over the summer but there was some overlap in August. They have a teacher on set and we have our required hours we need to do in school each day. The whole production team was good about giving us enough time to do work. It was kind of special for me aside from taking high school classes, I’m also taking college classes, so missing them was a little nerve-wracking.

Latinitas: What comes next for you?

Castillo: Hopefully, they’ll be a season 2 of Mythbusters Jr. I’m currently on the robotics team for my high school. I’ll be competing and doing more robotics. I have to work on graduating high school and college.

Latinitas: What do you want to do after high school?

Castillo: I plan to hopefully get into MIT or Cal Tech. I want to get a doctorate degree in chemical engineering. Hopefully, I’ll then go to work somewhere like Northrop Grumman or Lockheed Martin. You know in the aerospace industry.

Latinitas: Why is it important to get more Latinas like you in STEAM?

Castillo: I feel like it’s important because growing up I can’t say I remember seeing a lot of Latinas trying to do things in STEAM. It’s not until now, when I’m on social media, that I see how many Latinas are doing STEAM. As a kid, I needed more of those role models.

Latinitas: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

Castillo: I’m really proud to be representing women of color. I’m excited for everyone to watch the show.

Valerie Castillo speaks with Adam Savage on the set of Mythbusters Jr. Photo courtesy of the Mythbusters Jr team.

Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Christine Bolaños serves as managing editor of Latinitas Magazine. The 2016 International Women’s Media Foundation fellow is an Austin, Texas-based freelance journalist focused on the areas of social justice and women’s empowerment. Her work has most recently been published by NPR’s Latino USA, Remezcla, Latina Style Magazine, the Daily Dot, Project Pulso, Mitu and many other national outlets. The award-winning writer is a proud Salvadoran-American and an advocate for women of color in the media. 

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