While the paper clip as we know it has been around since at least the late 19th century, it didn't officially become cool until Sept. 29, 1985. On that date, viewers across the U.S. were introduced to a series called "MacGyver," featuring a secret agent who not only preferred to handle situations without a gun, but could also solve just about any problem with whatever resources were available.

Take for instance the pilot episode, where MacGyver was able to diffuse a missile with nothing more than a paper clip.


Future episodes, encompassing seven seasons on ABC, would feature MacGyver using chocolate, duct tape, gum, rubber bands and hundreds of other items to invent his way out of a problem. The series made such an impact that even today the word "MacGyver" is sometimes used as a verb meaning "to do the impossible."

In an effort to expose the spirit of the original "MacGyver" to a new generation, series creator Lee Zlotoff earlier this year partnered with the National Academy of Engineering, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and several other institutions to launch "The Next MacGyver" competition. The challenge asked for participants to come up with an original series featuring a woman hero in the lead role. Someone who, as the contest states, can "out-MacGyver MacGyver." The idea is to not only inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, but also encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

"When you see an engineer or a tech person on a TV show or movies, something like 90 percent of them are male," President Obama said at a town hall meeting in 2014. "So if you never see you in that position, it’s hard to imagine, well, that’s something I should be doing.”

In the months after it was announced, "The Next MacGyver" competition received more than 2,000 entries from all around the world. On July 8, they announced 12 finalists who will present their show ideas along with concept art before a panel of judges on July 28. From these, five will receive $5,000 and be partnered with a Hollywood film producer to develop their idea.

We recently had an opportunity to chat with finalist Kristen Bobst about her love of the original series, interest in the competition, and the idea she hopes will inspire a new generation of STEM graduates.

MNN: First off, are you a "MacGyver" fan?

Kristen Bobst: Absolutely. I grew up watching "MacGyver" reruns, and it’s a show that has always stuck with me. (It lives in my iTunes library for easy access!) I believe that it’s an especially important show because it shows the power of using brains and creativity over brute force tools like guns.

Tell us about your background and what interested you to get involved with this competition.

I come from a long and winding writing background. I was always the odd kid who would rather imagine elaborate backstories for stuffed animals than do pretty much anything else, and those backstories turned into short stories. I’ve been interested in screenwriting, specifically, since I was a teenager, so getting into the University of Southern California’s MFA Screenwriting program back in 2008 was something of a dream come true. (Fight On!) Furthermore, shows like "MacGyver" shaped my childhood, and I continue to be entertained and distracted from the weights of the world by quality TV; I’d like to return the favor by creating my own show to entertain people.

Doctor Tailor MacGyverConcept art for the 'Doctor Tailor' series proposed by 'Next MacGyver' finalist Kristen Bobst. (Photo: Mina Price/The Next MacGyver)

Tell us about the tone of your entry. Were you inspired by any other shows besides the original "MacGyver" in coming up with it?

I think strong characters like Veronica Mars, Dana Scully, Martha Jones, Willow Rosenburg, and more recently iZombie’s Liv Moore are certainly influences on my work. Also, I’m a big sci-fi geek in general. (See “Klingon Style,” which I came up with due to my love of "Star Trek") Side note: I find the narrative style of "Pretty Little Liars" fascinating and noteworthy.

Were you inspired by any real-life women with your character?

Indeed. Funny story. I was attending a wedding with a good friend of mine who happened to tell me an anecdote about her sister who had been hanging out with some astronauts. I asked some questions and found out that my pal’s sister, Lucy Dunne, is a scientist working in wearable technology and smart clothing. I looked into what all that entailed and was immediately fascinated by that field.

Doctor Tailor MacGyverThe interior of Tilly Tailor's secret lab. (Photo: Mina Price/The Next MacGyver)

Can you give us a rough synopsis of your entry?

It’s called "Doctor Tailor," and it’s a case-a-week drama that follows the adventures of a former fashion designer turned wearable technology engineer. Not only does Tilly Tailor solve crimes by creating, hacking or reverse-engineering articles of smart clothing, she’s also involved in solving the mystery of her father’s death, a scientist who tried to protect Tilly from his own foes. More information can be found here.

Is there any mentor in particular that you would absolutely love to work with if selected as a Top 5 finalist?

I’m blown away by how incredibly amazing all of "The Next MacGyver" mentors are. I’d be more than thrilled to have any one of them as my mentor.

Update 07/29: Sadly, Kristen's awesome MacGyver idea was not selected as one of the five finalists moving on to the next round. To see the list of treatments that will each receive $5K and shift into development, jump here.

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

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