Reality show judges don’t come much more qualified than Christine Gulbranson of “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius,” which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on Discovery.
The network hopes the show will stand out among singing competitions, Kardashians and cooking competitions with what it promises in a news release are “seemingly impossible engineering challenges.”
Gulbranson earned two bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees in both materials science and business administration and her doctorate in materials science, the last of these completed in 1997, all from UC Davis. While on campus, she also received awards for best dissertation and top research associate.
UCD’s 2002 Young Alumna of the Year top research associate hasn’t slowed down since.
Named one of the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s “top 40 under-40 business leaders of Silicon Valley,” she serves as a senior adviser for renewable and clean technologies at Symphony Equity Partners L.P. She is also the founder and CEO of Livermore-based Christalis LLC, specializing in alternative energy, nanotechnology implementation and business strategies.
It’s not the kind of résumé that screams “reality show.”
Gulbranson said she learned about the show through a friend and decided to contact the casting producer because of the chance to promote careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math — “and to get our country excited about that again.”
The competition shows that “engineering is not unattainable” and that “it’s exciting, because it’s fun, because you build things that make a difference,” she said.
Gulbranson has mentored both men and women during her career, but is “elated” to have a platform to encourage women’s interest in STEM fields.
“I was one of two female students in physics when I was at UC Davis, so it’s nice when you have those role models,” she said. “There are two amazing female contestants on the show, Alison (Wong, a product design consultant from Menlo Park) and Amy (Elliott, a graduate student from Blacksburg, Va.). They’re out there doing it right alongside the guys. I think it’s breaking down those barriers.”
In the show’s first episode, contestants must figure out how to keep from detonating explosives strapped to two trucks heading for a high-speed collision. They’ll have 30 minutes to puzzle out a solution.
Gulbranson will judge their work along with engineer and designer Mark Fuller. The Stanford University-educated Fuller is CEO of Water Entertainment Technologies, or WET, the company responsible for the dancing water features at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas and Lincoln Center in New York.
The show is hosted by Kal Penn, star of the “Harold and Kumar” film franchise and a former staff member in the Obama White House, where he helped lead outreach to young Americans.
The winner of the competition will go to work for Fuller on a one-year contract and receive $50,000.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden