By CYNTHIA McCLOUD
For The State Journal
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be on a reality game show. But in the case of Discovery Channel's "The Big Brain Theory," it helps.
Dan Moyers, a West Virginia University graduate, works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He helped develop the Curiosity rover, a car-sized robot that's exploring the surface of Mars.
The 34-year-old spacecraft engineer is also one of 10 contestants on "The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius", where cast members are tasked with solving a difficult engineering challenge in 30 minutes.
The first episode debuted May 1 on the Discovery Channel.
The winner gets $50,000 and a one-year contract to work at WET, which designs and builds large, animated water fountains that can move in choreography to music, Moyers said.
"They made the animated fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas," he said. "WET's CEO Mark Fuller is an executive producer of the show and one of the judges."
The contestants get a real-life problem to solve.
"Each person in the cast draws a blueprint design," Moyers explained. "They get 30 minutes to come up with their solution to the problem. Then you show your concept – what you'd use and what you'd build. The judges review all those and select the two best. Those two people selected become team captains and take turns picking teams from the remaining cast members.
"After you build your design and put it to the test, one team is selected as the winner and the other team will have one person eliminated. They meet with the judges and tell them what they did and who they think was the weakest link. The judges decide who gets eliminated."
Moyers, who graduated in 2002 with bachelor's degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering, found his study at WVU prepared him especially for the first episode."
"In the first challenge, what we needed to do was protect an explosive package from blowing up if it came in impact with another vehicle. Imagine trucks that have to transport dangerous materials. Sometimes for mines, they'll need explosives," he explained.
"We had to design a device or contraption to protect the explosive package from blowing up if the vehicle carrying it was involved in a high-speed collision."
It sounded familiar.
"The first thing I thought of was the Pumpkin Drop," Moyers said, remembering the annual contest at WVU to design an enclosure or apparatus to protect a pumpkin from damage when dropped 11 stories from the roof of the WVU Engineering Sciences Building.
"I thought, ‘I've done something like this before'," Moyers said. "I put what I learned in the pumpkin drop to use for implementing my design."
Moyers also earned a master's degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University.
Before the program, Moyers said if he were to win, he would like to use the cash prize to build the first operating hover board and help his parents, Ward and Dolores Moyers, who still live in Bruceton Mills, Preston County, where he grew up.