For most high school seniors, graduation is the highlight of the year. But for Craig Owenby, a recent graduate of North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., the most exciting part of his senior year has to be hanging out on the set of USA Network's show, "Burn Notice" and meeting the cast and crew.
"It was so amazing!" said Owenby.
Owenby was the grand prizewinner of USA Network's "Burn Notice" science challenge, which shows that science and television production really do go together. The challenge promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and was developed in collaboration with the show's creator, producers and writers, along with a panel of science teachers from across the country. Over one hundred students participated in the competition to design a safe, yet exciting, spy challenge that the characters of "Burn Notice" might face, such as covertly communicating with other operatives, gathering intelligence on adversaries or conducting surveillance of enemy territory.
"I watched the show and saw a commercial for the challenge," said Owenby. "I thought this was right up my alley."
Owenby's project explained how the green laser sight from a rifle, a set of iPod speakers, a phone headset, some wire and a solar panel could be used to create a laser communication device that uses fluctuating brightness and electrical pulses to audibly transmit messages from more than 100 feet away and even around a wall. His essay about the device wasn't just a step-by-step set of building instructions; Owenby also included a storyline within the explanation, showing that he was a fan of the show and knew how the characters would interact with one another.
"I was blown away by all the creative, clever entries we received; these are some seriously brilliant kids," said Matt Nix, creator and executive producer of "Burn Notice."
Twenty-five finalists were selected and asked to create a video demonstrating their proposed solution. "I've done some video editing, but all of it was self-taught," said Owenby. "Making the video was a lot of fun."
As the grand prize winner of the challenge, Owenby won a $10,000 scholarship, on-air and online recognition in a spot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZp7udx7UQo) featuring actor Bruce Campbell (who portrays Sam Axe), and an on-set visit to meet the cast members and creators of the show.
"Going on the set while they were filming the final episode was amazing," said Owenby. "I got to meet members of the cast including Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar and I was surprised by how meticulous shooting was."
Seeing the special effects scenes first-hand was especially impressive to Owenby. "It was crazy seeing explosions in real life, and in one scene, they actually charred a camera but they were able to salvage the footage," said Owenby.
Owenby will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta in the fall, and plans to study computer science, but this once-in-a-lifetime experience may have sparked a new interest. "I actually do have a desire to study film," said Owenby.
Hollywood's use of STEM is often behind the scenes, but this competition gave STEM students the chance to be the stars. "STEM has always been a passion of mine," said Nix. "I'm thrilled we were able to give these students a chance to demonstrate their talents in this area."
Owenby hung out on the set during the filming of the "Burn Notice" series finale which will air on September 12 at 9 p.m. (EDT) on USA Network.
"Burn Notice" cast member, Bruce Campbell announces Craig as the grand prize winner of the "Burn Notice" Science Challenge.