Louisiana teen is trampoline champion, junior ‘Mythbuster’
John Curtis Christian freshman Rachel Pizzolato has done more in her life than most 14-year-olds -- or even many adults. Whether she’s competing in gymnastics championships or national science fairs, Rachel joked on Sept. 14 that she never has time to rest. She says a lack of sleep hasn’t hindered her in beauty pageants, either.
The Broadcom Foundation and Society for Science & the Public this month announced Rachel was among the top 300 competitors in the Broadcom MASTERS, which the organizations describe as the nation’s leading science, technology, engineering and math competition for middle school students. These “top young scientists” were selected from more than 2,500 applicants from 48 states, who were narrowed down from 10,000 top competitors at science fairs affiliated with Broadcom MASTERS nationwide, Society for Science CEO Maya Ajmera said.
Rachel’s science project even paved the way for her debut on the latest iteration of the “Mythbusters” television series. She’s been in the top 300 in the science fair competitions for three years in a row.
Rachel’s project focuses on improving the efficiency of 3-D printed turbines to produce the most electricity, to create a more sustainable energy source. Her latest project is a refined version of her 2017 effort to generate electricity by harnessing the wind that flows between skyscrapers, which in itself was an improved version of her 2016 project to use vertical turbines that can be powered by cars.
Ajmera lauded Rachel for finding a cheap way to test turbines, via 3-D printing, without the expensive construction costs of an actual turbine. She said the Metairie teen exemplifies the competition’s goal of solidifying an interest in STEM among students between 6th and 8th grade.
“Rachel is a role model for all young girls out there who want to be a scientist or engineer. I think she’s really quite extraordinary and I can’t wait to see what happens in 20 years,” Ajmera said.
Rachel and her family were preparing to travel to Baton Rouge to support her brother’s football game when she spoke by phone with NOLA.com ′ The Times-Picayune. She said her project was inspired by the sight of turbines in California, where she participated in a trampoline gymnastics championship in 2012.
“This year I bumped it up 20 notches. It’s a very big project that I’m doing, so this is like four or five years of overall research and projects,” she said.
Rachel said she dove into gymnastics after determining practicing ballet “was a little bit boring” at age three. She tried artistic gymnastics at first until she noticed the trampoline. She said being 30 feet in the air is easily “the best feeling in the entire world,” and she was deemed a national champion for her trampoline routine at a competition in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last year.
Rachel also fell in love with beauty pageantry during her time as a ballerina, she added.
“I’ve always gotten along with the princesses at Disney World. Pageants are about being a princess, so of course I’d love to do that,” she said.
While being in front of tons of people can be a “fearful” experience, she said it’s also exciting and reinforces her confidence. That confidence played a factor in her casting for “Mythbusters Jr.”
Original Mythbusters host Adam Savage is returning to television in a 10-episode series to tackle myths alongside six of the nation’s most talented children. Savage and Rachel will also be joined by Jesse Lawless, a 15-year-old from Slidell who has been around cars in his father’s custom hot-rod shop for years. Rachel calls the entire experience “awesome.”
“Adam Savage is like a big giant version of a junior Mythbuster,” she said. “He’s like a big kid. He does extremely dangerous things but in a safe way, which is the best part because he’ll never let us get hurt.”
Rachel said the “strict crew” made sure the junior Mythbusters were always equipped with protective gear ranging from safety goggles and dust masks to wrist guards and kneepads. The show is expected to debut this winter on the Science Channel.
Although it’ll be a while before Rachel can watch herself on TV, she has a lot of other activities to keep her busy. Rachel said she trains on the trampoline for two to four hours per day, four to six days per week. She’s also involved in volleyball and recently took up cross country.
Rachel’s main goal is to participate in the Summer Olympics in 2024 and 2028. However, her back-up plans include modeling, beauty pageantry, track and volleyball, and lastly academics as her “ultra-ultra back-up plan.”
Of course, the active teenager has experienced some obstacles along the way. She wasn’t named a finalist (Sept. 19) among Broadcom’s top 30, even though she was among the finalists last year and in 2016. She also admits she “bombed” her latest national trampoline championship. Even so, Rachel said Mythbusters taught her that “failure is a good thing.”
“Even though you failed, you can still learn from it. As long as I keep working, I keep doing what I love, then someday it’ll work,” she said.
Rachel also credits her success to her family, John Curtis and the Greater New Orleans Science Fair. She encourages young girls “to be curious, inquisitive, and creative.” Her No. 1 rule is to never procrastinate, and she advises people to write down every idea in their head “because you never know” where it could lead.
“Maybe that idea in your head can make a difference in the world,” she said. “People come up with these ideas so often and they don’t say it so it never gets done.”