Lee Zlotoff’s “The Next MacGyver” Competition
launched in February with the goal to create an environment for young women to
thrive as hopeful engineers. Zlotoff’s aim to use the MacGyver legacy to inspire
a generation by providing female engineers to look up to in
the media is as commendable as it is exciting, especially given the idea that “MacGyver”
has become synonymous with
ingenuity and imagination. With this competition, we’ll hopefully see more women in television associated with it.
Though the contest doesn’t guarantee that any of the five
winning ideas will see a green light, the fact that they’ll have the help of
distinguished engineers and practiced Hollywood producers favorably tips the
odds. The finalists’ ideas aren’t too shabby, either.
Before we see any of those come to life, however, here’s a
toast to some of my favorite ladies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics
who’ve already graced television and, an added bonus, an instance in which they have
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson, “The X-Files”)
With a revival just around the very large corner, it’s only
fitting to start with Dr. Dana Scully. Scully’s right on up there with MacGyver
in that she, too, has turned into a character archetype, marked by a dogged
persistence toward interpreting events with logic and rationale.
Nothing says hard science more than a physics degree and a
senior thesis on Einstein’s Twin Paradox. Leave it to Scully to use her
background to present scientific explanations for their consistently paranormal
cases, long after personally witnessing things like pyrokinesis, time loops and her father’s ghost.
the fifth season episode, “Detour,” Scully tries to open a bullet with the intention of using its
gunpowder to start a fire. She successfully pries it open with her bare hands
(what a badass!), but the gunpowder explodes too soon and the wood doesn’t
catch. She gets an A for effort, though.
Winifred “Fred” Burkle (Amy Acker, “Angel”)
Fred enters the fold at the close of “Angel’s”
second season, a physics student turned slave following an unfortunate
encounter with a portal to one of the show’s many hell dimensions. Angel and his
crew help her escape and, after having just spent five years hiding out in caves and cow
barns, Fred decides to stay with the gang in Los Angeles. It takes a short
while for Fred to readjust to a life of friendly human interaction and in no time, we
see the rise of a brilliant, inventive omni-scientist.
By the show’s final season, Fred ends up filling the roles
of team physicist, pathologist, chemist and occasionally, mortician. She also
happens to be extremely good with numbers (which once nearly results in her
brain getting stolen) and in the episode detailed below, inadvertently scares
away a homeless man while while reciting pi – to calm herself down.
the Season 3 episode “Fredless,” Fred saves the team from a hoard of
demons with a device that was earlier presumed to either decapitate enemies or
toast bread. It did the former, and would present Fred with the
realization that she had a wanted, welcome place with the group. The very next
episode, “Billy” sees her readily saving herself from a brainwashed
Wesley by knocking him out with a fire extinguisher rigged up to a piece of
Cosima Niehaus (Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”)
The resident science nerd of Sarah’s crew, Cosima is a PhD
microbiology student who ends up demonstrating handiness with forensic science,
physics and medicine. She’s also got a rad nautilus tattoo and demolishes her fantasy
tabletop game opponents when she isn’t trying to solve Clone Club mysteries or making
heart-eyes at Delphine.
Cosima plays a major role in uncovering the conspiracy
against her sisters and presents audiences with yet another lovely example of
how science can kick ass without literally kicking ass. This, she leaves to Sarah.
And Helena. And Alison.
the Season 2 finale, Cosima teams with Scott and little Kira to build a weapon
out of a fire extinguisher and a pencil. The device later helps Sarah out of a
very nasty situation, and puts Rachel into one.
Root (Amy Acker, “Person of Interest”)
An incredibly brilliant hacker and ex-contract killer, Root (a
name she picked up as a child, corresponding to the highest level of access on Unix systems) and her computer skills are second only to the show’s
protagonist, Harold Finch. Root is a walking legend, recognizable through her notorious
hacks or elegant code. After her heel face turn, she uses her technological
genius to become a protector and leader of Team Machine.
Aside from the fact that most
of Root’s aliases derive from famous engineers – with a special shout out
to computer pioneer Ada Loveless – the idea that Root’s technical mastery eventually
becomes the team’s saving grace leaves a lot to be admired, and feared.
the Season 3 episode, “Mors Praematura,” Root fashions a blow torch
out of an oxygen tank, aluminum foil and a pack of raw spaghetti to tear into
an underground grate. The makeshift door would serve as an escape route at the
end of the episode. Later that season in “Beta,” Root uses a coil of
copper wire, needle nose pliers, duct tape and an extension cord to short circuit
the 8th precinct’s telecom box, providing the team with some much needed surveillance
cover from the mercenaries trying to kill them. She could probably defuse a
nuclear missile with a paperclip if she really needed to.
Raven Reyes (Lindsey Morgan, “The 100”)
Raven is the only engineer on the list and technically more
of a mechanic for the apocalypse survivors on the CW series. Still, her expertise in machinery, building things
and blowing them up proves both life-saving and deadly on the ground. She’s not
even out of her teens, and the adults on the Ark consider her one of the brightest
minds they’ve ever had.
The ace is able to build an escape pod out of spare Ark
parts in days, catapulting her into space and onto Earth, where her inventions
end up keeping the kids on the ground alive. She fixes a radio so Clarke can
communicate with her mother – in space
– to talk her through treating her dying friend. What a treasure.
that the 100 land on a post-apocalyptic, technology-free Earth, anything Raven
does to save her friends can technically be considered MacGyvering. You can
trust Raven to make anything from radios to makeshift bombs and, in the first
season episode “I Am Become Death,” she actually does the latter to
destroy a seemingly indestructible bridge connecting the 100 and the enemy
forces across the river. Raven Reyes, at 19 years old, figures out how to build
a potent bomb out of gunpowder and the hydrazine from a crashed dropship and, as
a result, singlehandedly prevents a massacre. Give her a problem and Raven will
Bellamy: That bridge has survived a nuclear war and 97 years of
Raven: It won’t survive me.